What should Pakistan want in Afghanistan

Published: December 8, 2014
The writer was foreign secretary from 1994-97 and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran (1992-94) and the US (1990-91)

The writer was foreign secretary from 1994-97 and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran (1992-94) and the US (1990-91)

As expected, the December 4 London Conference on Afghanistan jointly hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron and President Ashraf Ghani yielded pledges from the 60-odd countries attending the Conference to maintain support for Afghanistan after foreign troops are withdrawn, but no specific levels of support were mentioned. Only US Secretary of State John Kerry made the somewhat vague promise that the Obama Administration would ask Congress to approve “extraordinary” levels of aid through to 2017. It was, however, made clear that the flow of this assistance would be dependent on Afghanistan taking the steps laid out in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework to curb corruption and streamline the utilisation of the assistance provided. The London Conference communique talks of the new Afghan government implementing “sustained realistic strategies to root out corruption, combat terrorism and strengthen good governance and rule of law”.

Will this be possible? Afghanistan has 850,000 persons on its payroll. What do they do? In the province of Ghor, an education department survey showed that of the 740 schools, 80 per cent were non-operational and one can, therefore, assume that 80 per cent of the 4,000 teachers are ghost employees. President Ghani has said that he was told that Afghanistan had 60,000 teachers but feared that a survey may show that only 6,000 of them were working. Perhaps the National Unity Government is capable of the harsh administrative measures needed to correct this situation but clearly this will not happen while the insurgency continues. More importantly, from Pakistan’s perspective, if these ghost workers join the ranks of the 40 per cent deemed to be unemployed or under-employed, there will be a fresh exodus of economic refugees across the porous Pak-Afghan border adding to the five million refugees we are already hosting.

On the peace process, the London Conference “reaffirmed the importance of the peace process to ending violence and sustaining development in Afghanistan”. It further said that “the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process towards reconciliation and peace must be transparent.” It “reiterated the importance of the peace process principles as per the UN Security Council resolutions, such as the renunciation of violence, the breaking of ties to international terrorism and respect for the Afghan Constitution, including its human rights provisions”.

But are the Taliban or other elements of the “armed opposition” ready to participate in the peace process? In the last three weeks, there have been 11 attacks in Kabul, apparently designed to prove that the Taliban can attack at will, to scare foreign aid workers who have started leaving Afghanistan, and to generally enhance the sense of insecurity in Kabul.

More ominous, however, are the large-scale attacks exemplified by the Taliban occupation of the British vacated Camp Bastion in Helmand. It took the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) three days to retake Camp Bastion and that, too, became possible only after air raids were carried out by the Isaf forces. It is such evidence of ANSF shortcomings that has prompted President Barack Obama to authorise — in contradiction of earlier orders — to permit Isaf forces to continue to provide combat support to the ANSF through to 2015. It has also probably prompted American commanders on the ground to propose once again that the withdrawal of all combat forces by 2016 should be reconsidered and made subject to the actual ground reality. In the absence of reconciliation, I see President Obama being forced by his military commanders to postpone withdrawal of combat forces well beyond 2016. Do the regional countries have concerns about this? If so, only the advancement of the peace process can help prevent this.

This brings us to the question of the role Pakistan has to play in moving the peace process forward. In London, our prime minister spoke of a “comprehensive and enduring partnership” and of “fighting terrorism as a common enemy”. This was also, one can assume, the principal point of discussion during the spate of visits exchanged between Kabul and Islamabad in the past few weeks and in meetings in Beijing and London. President Ghani, in pressing Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the table with reasonable demands for reconciliation, also addressed the highly exaggerated Pakistani concerns about India’s role in Afghanistan by withdrawing the request Hamid Karzai had made to India to buy Russian military equipment for supply to Afghanistan and by emphasising that if Afghanistan’s future lay in “regional connectivity”, then Pakistan had to be the premier partner.

Pakistan has long argued that its influence over the Taliban is limited quoting examples of how the Taliban while in power had rejected such Pakistani requests as the surrender of the Pakistani terrorist Riaz Basra or protecting the Bamiyan statues. This is true, but it is also true that the Taliban could afford to reject these demands because of their perception that those making the requests did not represent all centres of power in Pakistan. Now one hopes that Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the pledge to fight terrorism as the common enemy will convey to the Taliban that any demand we make of them will represent the view of all centres of power in Pakistan.

When one sees the situation in Pakistan, Chaman seems to be more a Taliban city than a Pakistani one. The Quetta districts of Pushtunabad and Khrotabad and the refugee camps in the vicinity are off-limits to Pakistani authorities. Sectarian attacks against the Hazaras unite the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. It is imperative that if we wish to re-establish the writ of the state, we create conditions in which Taliban fighters no longer have a place on our soil.

This is the moment of truth for us. Perhaps we have allowed the problem to fester for too long and no longer have the capacity to decisively influence the Frankenstein we have nurtured but we must realise that every day that passes will reduce our influence further and allow the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate further. There is a reasonable resolution available. It is the road map that the High Peace Council brought to Pakistan in November 2012 and which envisaged that to start with, the Kabul government could recognise the political reality of the support the Taliban enjoyed — a recent credible Asia Foundation survey shows that one-third of Afghans still sympathise with the Taliban — by giving them such non-elected offices as district and provincial governorships and then let them participate in the next round of elections.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th,  2014.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • raider
    Dec 8, 2014 - 12:48AM

    well articulated ,” Pakistan want peace in Afghanistan on his terms”.Recommend

  • observer
    Dec 8, 2014 - 1:13AM

    “What should Pakistan want in Afghanistan”

    The very heading exposes the aggressive revisionist mentality of Pakistan. Afghanistan is an independent and sovereign country. What right Pakistan has to “want” anything in Afghanistan? Pakistan should just stop interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.


  • Humza
    Dec 8, 2014 - 6:05AM

    @observer: You should tell that to India which has been using Afghanistan as a puppet state since 1947. It is due to Indian interference in Afghanistan and India’s insistence on using pliable regimes in Kabul to carry out cross border troubles in Pakistan that Afghanistan has only destabilized itself. Hopefully, the new leader Ghani will focus on improving the lives of Afghans instead of just blindly doing the bidding of India. Pakistan needs a stable Afghanistan so it is not flooded with more refugees running away from Afghanistan and so millions of Afghan refugees can leave Pakistan and go home.


  • Naive
    Dec 8, 2014 - 7:17AM

    “…by giving them such non-elected offices as district and provincial governorships and then let them participate in the next round of elections.”
    You make it sound as if you already know that they shall accept this. Naive.
    We expect some really workable solutions, if you have any. Seems like you have none.


  • Iftikhar hussain
    Dec 8, 2014 - 7:29AM

    Just wonder does the writer talks about the Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan or pleading case for Taliban power sharing. The writer as a Pakistani believes he knows Afghan realities more than Afghans do themselves., and he wants the world to see Afghans through Pakistan lens, nothing will change as long as Pakistanis exhibits such thinking.


  • Khattak
    Dec 8, 2014 - 9:53AM

    Nothing is going to change. Afghans are not handing over their sovereign foreign policy. This will lead to strength of jihadi & criminal narcotics gangs. Unfortunately the region will see more death & destruction, Pashtuns on both sides of Durand Line taking the burst of it. It will not take long for Ghani to break down & rest of the story will be same as told by Karzai.


  • Gurion
    Dec 8, 2014 - 10:05AM

    What should Pakistan want in

    But first, Pakistan should decide what they want in Pakistan.


  • objective observer
    Dec 8, 2014 - 10:19AM

    Destabalizing a war torn country is no way to address your own insecurities and short comings. You mean nothing to Afghan Lions. Now go fantasize about yourselves.


  • Thotatum25
    Dec 8, 2014 - 12:10PM

    This is the kind of idiocy that infuriates the Afghans, as if the Afghans are so naive that they would allow India or any other foreign country to use their soil to interfere in the affairs of another country. What Pakistanis like yourself imply is that India is using Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan through Baluchistan. If you’ve been to Afghanistan you will find out Indians are welcomed there because they add to the social capital of the country, provide health services, help in institutional building etc. BTW, do you know how Pakistanis are viewed in Afghanistan?


  • Afghanistan
    Dec 8, 2014 - 1:14PM

    @Humza: I think before calling us puppet, you should look at yourself and to your history. Since the creation of Pakistan, big powers like USA and uk have used you as a child.without their permission you cannot even deal with your neighbours and gas deal with Iran is a good example of such. The only difference I see between India and Pakistan is that they build our schools and you destroy them. They maintain good relationship with central government while you always support non state elements.


  • Najmuddin A. Shaikh
    Dec 8, 2014 - 5:06PM

    Najmuddin A. Shaikh. It appears to me that some of my Afghan friends who have offered comments have missed the purpose of the article. If the facts I have stated about Afghanistan are wrong- 40% unemployment, ghost workers,financial difficulties, ANSF still needing air support from Coaltion forces and the survey showing that one third of Afghans have sympathies for the Taliban- I would welcome corrections.
    But I would also like readers to appreciate that the main thrust of the article is to see what Pakistan in its own interest can do to advance reconciliation towards which President Ashraf Ghani says he is working. The solution I have proposed as one possibility is a solution, which, according to press reports, Salahuddin Rabbani s/o the late President Burhanuddin Rabbani had proposed as the Head of the Afghan High Peace Council. If this proposal was not made I would again welcome a correction.
    Pakistan and Afghanistan realise, if I understand the purport of the recent exchange of visits
    correctly have to work together to effect reconciliation. Pakistan has an interest of its own to do so.


  • Virkaul
    Dec 8, 2014 - 8:43PM

    Najmuddin A. Shaikh: Afghanistan has been at war for the last 3-4 decades and suffered massive destruction through Taliban. Your statistics about unemployment or ghost schools is not surprising in a country which is trying to rebuild itself. Ghost schools, teachers and hospitals are a menace in Pakistan as well. Employment rate in Pakistan is 6.2% in 2013 and rising. To overcome economic and political difficulties Afghanistan needs financial and technical help not interference in their political affairs. It is evident that Pakistan wishes a govt in Afghanistan that is friendly to it but it must stop dictating as to who this govt should have relations with. This is where the problem arises.
    If your assessment is that 1/3 of afghans want Pashtuns/Taliban govt, let it be decided through the ballot (peoples’ wish) rather than the bullet. As long as Pakistan contunes to view Afghans as naive neighbours whose defence and foreign policy should be dictated by the establishment, peace will remain a distant dream. Obsession with India is the reason for such hidden desires, which Pakistan must shed now.


  • salim jan
    Dec 9, 2014 - 12:58AM

    A llama Iqbal says in one of his verses that Afghanistan is the heart of Asia.The peace of whole Asia depends upon peace in Afghanistan.The international community with the active and sincere support of Pakistan and India should work for peace and stability in Afghanistan.alt is in the interest of all.Recommend

  • Cool Henry
    Dec 9, 2014 - 1:05AM

    @Najmuddin A. Shaikh: The simplest solution would be for Pakistan to allow normal trade, commerce, travel and tourism between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.


  • Grace
    Dec 9, 2014 - 1:20AM

    @objective observer: “Afghan Lions” are too busy running away to other countries. Have you seen Iran and Pakistan where there are so many “lions” begging on the streets? What about all the “Afghan lions” smuggling themselves in boats and hiding to get into Europe and Australia so they can live on social assistance? Stop the nonsense bravado talk and hope that the government in Kabul changes for the better.


  • Truth?
    Dec 9, 2014 - 1:45AM

    In last 66 years of Pakistan existence. It has lost many thing as compare to what it claims gained. It has lost Nation, identity, civilization, culture, peace, integrity, moral and ethical values. And all this has lost in the race of international politics, geo-strategical failed and non-visionary policies. Basically there is four hidden enemies of Pakistan: Its worst corrupt bureaucracy, Politicians, Army and security agencies (with non-visionary and just negative approach) and Nation itself. Pakistan is basically a mob with no direction, understanding and future goals. It has no self-respect for its or its Nation and that why the world has been using it as tool to gain their goals. While it has been engaged in its entire suicide. It is very difficult of understand the ground realities of the this land and Nation….which through media propagated quite opposite. The root cause of all crisis of this land Pakistan is its own system of injustices, race for power, status, lack of true education and believe and faith. It further totally failed in stabilization its system and peaceful relation with its neighboring countries. Hence if Pakistan and its people really need progress and socio-economic development and peaceful future then it must need to change its attitude and bring equality in its words and actions.


  • Afghan Maihan
    Dec 9, 2014 - 3:29AM

    Mr. Najmuddin Shaikh

    Afghanistan is doing just fine, notwithstanding decades of war and regional proxies battling to gain influence in Kabul, which never materialized and never will. As long as you and other Pakistani analysts that propagate India-centric state narratives vis a vis Afghanistan you will keep alienating Afghans.

    Stop pushing the Taliban on the Afghans and stop propagating the narrative, which portrays the Taliban as the representatives of Pashtuns that are sidelined, nothing can be further from the truth.

    Accept the changed realities in Afghanistan and understand that the world is engaged in Afghanistan and It will never allow Pakistani sponsored terrorists to land hijacked planes in Kandahar nor will they tolerate safe havens and terror camps in and around Afghanistan. Those days are over, I know you miss them and you would like to return to those good old days. Keep on dreaming.


  • Realism
    Dec 9, 2014 - 4:57AM

    “Pakistan is basically a mob with no direction, understanding and future goals. It has no self-respect for its or its Nation and that why the world has been using it as tool to gain their goals. While it has been engaged in its entire suicide. It is very difficult of understand the ground realities of the this land and Nation…” (Emphasis and italics added.)
    How can Pakistan be a mob and a nation at the same time?

    “Basically there is four hidden enemies of Pakistan: Its worst corrupt bureaucracy, Politicians, Army and security agencies (with non-visionary and just negative approach) and Nation itself. “

    False statement, for one, without the Army Pakistan would not have survived. And, how is “Nation itself” one of the “hidden enemies of Pakistan?”
    You have rambled without clarity of thought.


  • Salim Jan
    Dec 9, 2014 - 8:16AM

    The only remedy for sustainable and lasting peace in Afghanistan is the strong and united national army which is above all ethnic and tribal consideration.Institutions-building is the cry of day.But in the wake of withdrwal of coalition forces from this war-battered country,it will not be possible for the Ashraf Ghani-led government to focus undivided attention on the strengthening of institutions.The insurgency and barrage of attacks by Taliban militants will lead to desertion in Afghan national army.The emergence of warlords from their hibernation will certainly add fuel to the fire.May Allah bless the people of Afghanistan with durable peace and tranquility!Ameen.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Dec 9, 2014 - 8:49AM

    Mayhem .. ??


  • FAZ
    Dec 9, 2014 - 12:11PM

    @Afghan Maihan:
    World is engaged in Afghanistan??”

    The “world” had decided to pack up and leave Afghanistan. It was the visit of COAS of Pakistan to the US that convinced them to reconsider. Had that not happened, your Kabul centered government would have been long gone and Karzai would be living in exile in India.

    No sensible Pakistani will ever support Taliban’s after they learned the bitter lesson in the form of TTP. With 50 thousand lives lost and counting and economy shattered you still believe we would have what ever unproved intentions you keep on referring to. Have some sense. You need Pakistan more than ever before. Your current president knows this. I hope he is not corrupt as Karzai and Co.


  • Fareed
    Dec 9, 2014 - 1:07PM


    So you are saying that COAS’s visit to USA was to convince US to stay in Afghanistan as if they listen to you, can you give me just another example of US listening to Pakistanis? Or maybe it is the other way round, US realised that they can’t trust Pakistan anymore hence they decided to stay abit longer and give us hand to fight proxies!

    There is no doubt that no sensible Pakistani will support Taliban but they never had support of the sensible Pakistanis from day one either – I hope you get what I mean.

    Now who needs whose help is very clear. In case you don’t know let me elaborate, Pakistan with a population of 180mln still seeks strategic depth in Afghanistan (I call it desperate support) Given the population of Afghanistan which approximately equals to %12 of Pakistan’s population, I wonder why you want an Islamabad friendly government in Kabul I suppose it is needed in case India attacks you..

    Now why is that, Is it because there is not enough man in Pakistan, or is it because you need Afghans help or what is it.. Can you come up with a clear explanation?


  • Kandaharai
    Dec 9, 2014 - 2:24PM


    Afrin! Pakistan is just looking to use Afghans/Pashtuns to fight INDIA when the next war occurs… The existence of pakistan is going to end soon…


  • bahadur khan
    Dec 9, 2014 - 4:12PM

    afghanistan has copper, nickel, gas coal, titanium. ion ore, gold , silver,. Indian enterprise is ready to invest , develop and handover to Afghanis. if there is need of teacher we can export 54,000 english teachers, We dont need this day to day interference or nuisance of Pakistani goverment. we are in position to fly to iran and then to afghanistan. Pakistan primary interest is unstable Afganistan.


  • Lion King
    Dec 9, 2014 - 9:08PM

    Don’t know about “Pakistan” but we Pakistanis want all these Afghans leave us for good now including those who got our CNICs


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