Spearhead Analysis – 20.11.2014
After the visit Of Afghanistan’s President to Pakistan hopes are high that a bilateral understanding between the two countries can lead to peace and stability. This hope and expectation is tempered with the reality of uncertainties, past hostility and above all the interests of those who thrive in the current conflict and terror situation and would like status quo to continue. The key is a bilateral relationship that can weather transient situations, resist outside pressures, and shun transactional temptations and looks at the future of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A protracted conflict that spans decades and is rooted in bilateral and regional rivalries and hostilities inevitably spawns drugs and weapons networks, criminal mafias and guns for hire, terrorist networks and entrenched interest groups with external linkages with their own agendas. This is the legacy of the thirty years of violence and conflict in Afghanistan that inevitably spilt over into Pakistan especially after the US invasion of Afghanistan post 911. This is an environment that persists till today though a difficult election has brought in a National Unity Government and Afghanistan now has trained security forces to take over from the US and NATO.
Pakistan joined the US in supporting the Afghans in their struggle to end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Once the former USSR collapsed and withdrew, the US also left and Pakistan had to deal with the civil war situation in Afghanistan that led to the birth of the Taliban at the ground level while the war lords battled for power and enforced extractive policies. The success and popularity of the Taliban in areas bordering Pakistan left Pakistan with no choice except to support the Taliban and the US tacitly agreed—even at one point comparing them to the ‘founding fathers of the US’. 911 brought the US back into Afghanistan with guns blazing but zero long term strategy. Again Pakistan joined the US and NATO but was never taken fully into confidence. Unsure of the end game, Pakistan hedged its bets and sure enough the US suddenly and inexplicably went into Iraq setting in motion the events that have created the present mess in the entire Middle East. Pakistan’s support of the US, NATO logistics through Pakistan and the US Drone attacks policy created first the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) and then an off shoot that links militant groups within Pakistan—the Punjabi Taliban. This is the situation that exists now with a Pakistan Army operation underway that is aimed at restoring the writ of the government in the entire FATA area bordering Afghanistan. The US and NATO are withdrawing leaving a 10-15000 troop presence to support the Afghan security forces under a recently concluded bilateral Security Agreement. Pakistan is also hosting over a million Afghan refugees and its own internally displaced people (IDP’s). The Afghan-Pak relationship is more important than ever before.
There are other evolving situations that must be factored into any analysis of the Pakistan-Afghan relationship. Sectarian strife in the Middle East is on the rise with wide spread influences. This has also led to the creation of the Islamic State (IS) under a Caliph that is showing outreach capacity and is a magnet for militants worldwide. The US is preoccupied with Ukraine and is forging a coalition of sorts to shore up Iraq and fight the IS though it still wants to oust Assad in Syria and is working on a rapprochement with Iran. US strategy is still being evolved for all these contradictory goals. China has interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as further afield in the South China Sea, South East Asia, South America and Africa but its maritime and overland silk route infrastructure definitely involves west and central Asia. China is closely linked to Pakistan but does have a security issue in its province bordering Pakistan. India and Iran are Pakistan’s neighbors with long land borders. India under the Modi government has so far adopted a tough confrontational policy against Pakistan and its longer term policy has yet to take shape. Iran has concerns over cross border attack issues with Pakistan and cannot be happy over the fate of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline.
Pakistan needs to have good bilateral understandings and relations with all its neighbors. This does not seem possible with India given its present attitude and talk of ‘red lines’. Pakistan must therefore look west—to Afghanistan, Central Asia, Iran, China and Russia. Geopolitical realities must now take precedence even as the economic and trade benefits of globalization are never lost sight of.
Pakistan needs to focus on internal security and all that it entails. Without political stability, economic uplift and a response to the peoples’ problems, internal stability and security will not be possible and the country will remain exploitable because of the sectarian, ethnic and social fissures in society and the intolerance that these are breeding. A year after the elections Pakistan is still in ‘election day’ mode with mass movements –political and religious—disrupting work and providing terrorists a cover for free movement.
Even as Zarb e Azb achieves success there is a need to forge a supportive policy that strengthens governance, civil administration, outreach to all segments and control over all negative elements. This needs a very comprehensive policy and highlights the need for a policy and decision making arrangement that gives credibility to the government.
The opportunity for forging a lasting bilateral relationship with Afghanistan is there and it must be seized. Pakistan needs to insulate itself from any fall-out from the Middle East and not get involved in any way.
The US pivot or rebalancing that draws in India notwithstanding, Pakistan needs to work on strengthening the US-Pakistan relationship as well as an eventual positive relationship with India that should remain a work in progress.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)