Pakistan-Afghanistan Diplomacy – The Way Forward

By Hassan Raza Sheikh
Intern Research Analyst,
Spearhead Research

LUMSThe Afghan Intelligence Service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) has publicly blamed an official of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for working with the infamous Haqqani Network in carrying out the attack at the Afghan Parliament on June 22nd. The bomb and gun attack resulted in the death of 2 people and wounded 40 as the lawmakers were voting in Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai as the new Defence Minister, a position that had been vacant for months due to internal political disagreements. The relationship between the two countries has visibly soured. The reconciliatory bond that was created after much hard work has been shattered as firing erupted in the South Waziristan Agency border last week, which injured 2 security personnel of Pakistan and killed an Afghan border police commander.

Pakistan- Afghanistan relations have historically been fraught with suspicion and mistrust especially over the porous Durand line, the 2640 km long controversial border between the two countries. However after the Peshawar school attack, the stakes got a lot higher and following increasing efforts by General Raheel Sharif, an unprecedented amount of cooperation followed. It started with the Afghan security forces, acting on Pakistani Intelligence, apprehending those involved in the attack and culminated in a first of its kind memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two premier intelligence agencies of the countries. The MoU involved collaboration in the counter-terrorism operations included information sharing, joint probing of terror suspects and training of the NDS personnel by the ISI. Though PM Nawaz and COAS Sharif have recently shared sentiments of the two being “brotherly countries”, the foreign policy adopted has not reflected this stance.

President Ashraf Ghani, since coming to power has seriously looked to mend the fences and realign his interests with those of Pakistan’s despite a lack of support from his parliament. He sent six Afghan cadets for an eighteen-month course in the Pakistan Military Academy and suspended the heavy weapons deal with India. When news of the MoU broke in the Afghan media, it caused a massive public uproar. There are considerable trust issues with Pakistan which is seen by the Afghan public to be playing another double game in the pursuit of its own interests at the cost of regional peace. In February, former President Pervez Musharraf publicly admitted that Pakistan had supported insurgent “proxies” in Afghanistan to counter the Indian influence during the Karzai government. Afghan diplomats have blamed Pakistan of an unequal relationship between the two countries. With these recent developments the situation remains in a deadlock and the way forward appears uncertain and precarious.

Primarily we have to realize that a safe and secure Pakistan is not possible without peace in Afghanistan especially as the rugged border terrain remains as ineffective at keeping people out. It is in the long term interest of the people and the economies of both countries to develop a platform for extended stability. And if peace really is the way forward, then serious attempts must be made to address the current predicament.

A situation, as complicated as this one, merits a solution just as unusual. In 1981 at the height of the cold war Joseph V. Montville, currently a retired career US State Department Foreign Service officer was the first person to pen the term ‘Track 2 non-official diplomacy’. It is an attempt made by individuals to find common ground in contrast with Track 1 diplomacy, which is the official mediation through government channels. It is not supposed to replace the official diplomatic process but rather serve as a complementary force in conflict management.

For greater chances of success at a diplomatic level, a better relationship must exist between the inhabitants of the two countries. This non-official and non-structured diplomatic process has two objectives which can be established through different channels. The first process involves getting the Afghan and the Pakistani academics to talk on a common platform in order to develop personal relationships, understand the conflict from the perspective of others, and develop joint strategies for solving the conflict. This can be achieved through numerous channels such as various NGO’s, universities and religious organizations. Workshops should be set up which encourage free and open talk on the issues in an unbiased manner. Lectures can be arranged by inviting academics on both sides to engage in healthy debate. University students should be given scientific and cultural exchange opportunities in both countries, preferably with scholarships or subsidies from the government. Religious organizations can play a vital part in this development by endorsing peace and encouraging talks on both sides. This will promote harmony among the public and with better two way communication, it can assist the official diplomatic process. Moreover it has the ability to empower the socially, politically and economically disenfranchised groups by giving them a platform to air their grievances and their views directly on how their problems should be managed.

The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and the government of Afghanistan have taken a massive step in this direction. The Afghanistan Scholarship Programme (ASP) has already been established with the government of Afghanistan allocating an initial fund of 1 million USD for this program, which will be complemented by an additional 2 million USD by the Government of Pakistan. LUMS will welcome its first batch from Afghanistan in the upcoming academic year 2015/16.

The second major objective is to shift the public opinion. The media has to play a constructive role as it has the power to change the perceptions of the viewers at large. An example of Track 2 diplomacy used by Pakistan is the Aman ki Asha (AkA) project, the joint peace initiative taken by Jang Group and the Times of India to foster better relations between the two archenemies. The AkA project was successful in attracting enough publicity for its cause that it played a noteworthy part in the normalization of relations post November 2008 Mumbai attacks. It also organized several events during the critical times which included strategic seminars, a series of cultural, music and art performances, and campaigns like ‘Milne Do’ (against visa restrictions) and “in the name of humanity” (for prisoners). Sports are another great healer. A cricket series held on neutral grounds or grassroots coaching from the PCB to the emerging and talented Afghan side can help win the hearts of the Afghan public and create a feeling among them that we genuinely want to help. These campaigns are instrumental in decreasing the mistrust between the general public as they find common ground not only in mutual struggles but also re-humanize the other side. A similar campaign can be started by the media groups, on a scale at least as big as the AkA, to attract sufficient attention and create the necessary conditions for formal diplomacy to work its way.

In the long term, the Afghans must be seen by the Pakistani’s as more than illegal refugees in our country. And more importantly Afghanistan must be respected as a sovereign nation with its own autonomous citizens rather than Pakistan’s own strategic backyard. Pakistan has long treated Afghanistan as its fifth province meddling in their internal affairs at its own behest. It has also been fighting a proxy war with India, continuing its past policy of endeavoring to limit Indian influence in the region whereas Afghanistan has to relieve its reputation of being used as a political tool by India during the Karzai Government.

A meeting of the two Heads of States is expected at the sidelines of the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Russia, to encourage reconciliation. Hopefully some understanding will be reached that can make Track 2 diplomacy as a viable solution which can narrow the trust deficit.