Spearhead Analysis – 16.11.2015
By Ayesha N.I. Ahmad
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
Since Pakistan’s inception bilateral relations with Afghanistan have been fraught. This instability is due to issues related to the British drawn Durand Line, the secessionist idea of Pakhtunistan, the 1979 Soviet invasion, rise of the Taliban, 9-11 and its consequences. Pakistan’s dogma of strategic depth viz a viz Afghanistan is fuelled by its rivalry with India and the refusal of the Afghans to accept the Durand line as a recognized border. Pakistan views Indian involvement in Afghanistan with suspicion, feeling that it undermines its objective of trying to establish a friendly government in Kabul.
Fourteen years post 9/11 has shown the world that Washington has yet to evolve a clear plan of action regarding the Afghanistan conundrum. They have not been able to achieve anything substantive like a stable Afghan government, economic reconstruction, elimination of warlords or controlling the Taliban. President Obama has had to backtrack and stop the US military withdrawal post 2016 from Afghanistan. Many experts are seeing this decision of Washington’s as a weakness of its position globally as Russia reasserts itself militarily and politically in the Middle East and China cleverly positions itself to become the dominant political force in post occupation Afghanistan.
Pakistan to fully benefit from emerging opportunities of economic and security co-operation needs to address the Afghanistan imbroglio, whilst adopting a policy that addresses the changed regional realities. It needs to carefully distance itself from the USA’s ham fisted Afghanistan policy while evolving its own proactive rather than a reactive policy. It needs to continue convincing the US and Afghan regime to limit India’s role in Afghanistan while increasing its own investment in trade, reconstruction and development works. This effort will help Islamabad compete with other economic contenders of the region and make a strong niche for itself.
Now that the Iran and P5+1 Nuclear Deal is through it is only a matter of going through the steps to bring Iran back into the ‘International Order’. Iran has realized the importance of its eastern geographical Sunni neighbor Pakistan. It is extending an olive branch which is being reciprocated. Islamabad should continue to reach out to various regional powers that were previously antagonistic. It should keep making efforts to build good relations with Russia and bridge the trust deficit between the two. The relationship with China needs to be sustained, nurtured and strengthened through a deliberate policy. China’s has already shown foresight in maintaining constant friendly ties with Pakistan and further increasing its stakes in the region by investing in the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
In the past month and half since the sobering Kunduz debacle two high level visits to the U.S. from Pakistan have taken place. The DG-ISI met his counterparts outside D.C. and discussed the intelligence aspect and how to bring the new Taliban leadership on the negotiating table. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived at the Blair house and had a crisp couple of days in Washington. He met Obama and discussed a whole range of issues; Afghanistan, India, Kashmir, Terrorism, Nuclear and how the region is shaping up especially with blowback of Syria and Iraq. The joint statement after Nawaz-Obama meeting touched all the right chords and did not single out Pakistan for any “Do More” mantra. After a long time it seems that Pakistan-US relations are looking positive with realistic goals. The Afghan’s will now have to tone down their rhetoric and become serious about meaningful talks with the Taliban and work with Pakistan. Islamabad for its part should continue to show restraint and continue for resumption of the stalled Murree talks.
Now the Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif has embarked on a five-day trip to USA, most of it, if not all will be spent in Washington. The COAS will further extenuate Pakistan’s new policy outlook vision to his counterparts. He will again factor in Pakistan’s centrality to any Afghan solution. The negative role of Indian interference will be discussed. The changing security regional dynamics with China, Iran and Russia will be explained from Pakistan’s perspective. The changed regional reality and its importance to USA could not be better understood then once these visits are seen incrementally. There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel in Southwest Asia if the major powers i.e. USA, China and Russia see the positivity in Pakistan and allow it to help bring peace in the region.