The Afghan-led initiative at regional peace

Spearhead Analysis – 03.12.2014

By Shayan Malik
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Ashraf Ghani Regional PeaceWith the partial NATAO drawdown in Afghanistan in late 2014, there has been an increasing momentum towards peace in the region. This outcome has mainly arisen due to change in the government in Kabul and might be fully realized due to China’s increasing interest in Afghanistan. The new Afghan regime has been willing to work with the Pakistani military in curbing terrorism in both states and is looking to economically benefit from a partnership with important regional and global players such as India, Pakistan and China. In this effort, it might actually entrench regional and global integration.

A break from Karzai era politics

Karzai’s departure from the Afghan presidency comes as a breath of fresh air for the Pakistani state given that he was mostly publically hostile to his eastern neighbor with occasional bursts of friendly behavior. The new Afghan regime seems to have a different narrative when it comes to Pakistan and the wider region in defiance to what one found coming from Afghan officialdom in the not so far away past. This narrative seems to have been in the process of making since the Afghan elections took off this year. The two main presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, promised to have good relations with Pakistan and there was no anti-Pakistan sentiment found in the speeches of both of them. Pakistan itself has offered friendly overtures to the new Afghan regime that were made by the foreign minister, the army chief and the ISI chief

Regional and Global Connectivity: The economic dividends to be reaped

There is a reinvigoration of hope surrounding Afghanistan that mainly protrudes out of the ability of the new Afghan President to see most global and regional forces as partners rather than opponents. The change in narrative is due to a general sentiment in Afghanistan that Pakistan itself has reviewed its Afghan policy and that it is instrumental for this turn to be utilized for economic development as well as peace and reconciliation. Pakistani business’s have their eyes fixed on Afghanistan in order to access Central Asian markets. During his much awaited recent visit to Pakistan, Ashraf Ghani has laid his economic vision bare by stressing upon the need to speed up the functioning of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline and to make neighboring Kandahar and Khost trade free provinces for Pakistan. Ghani also aspires to build the CASA-1000 electricity line. The Afghan Finance Minister also paid a visit to Pakistan and agreed to enhance bilateral trade from $2.5 billion to $5 billion.

Ashraf Ghani also fares different than his predecessor as far as counter-terrorism collaboration is concerned. Inverse to the earlier distrust that was shown by the Afghan security forces in collaborating with Pakistan during Karzai’s regime, Asharf Ghani has vowed to shut down TTP sanctuaries in Kunar and Nuristan provinces. He also seems to have a better take on the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan and is more convinced of the Pakistani military’s assertion of taking on militants of all hues as part of the counter-insurgency efforts.

His global vision can be gauged from the fact that he is wistful of cooperation in sectors such as energy, trade, border security, connectivity and even people to people contacts with Pakistan. Regional and Global connectivity seem to be on Ghani’s mind. He has also not used the Durand Line as a prism through which to view Afghan-Pakistan relations. Ashraf Ghani represents a new understanding of economically driven international relations rather than state driven international relations.

Bringing Pakistan and India together and Saying ‘no’ to Proxy Wars

Ashraf Ghani is not partial to the supposed proxy efforts of one of the South Asian rivals to the other. Instead, he has told both countries to halt their alleged proxy war in Afghanistan. By doing this, he is trying to make sure that peace within his own country is not dependent upon settlement between Pakistan and India, but is independent of external forces. In fact, he seems keen to use Afghanistan as a medium through which to promote peace between Pakistan and India. Last week, this transpired into action as he was instrumental in enabling Modi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to shake hands at the 18th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Reducing one sphere of competition between the two countries might enable them two countries to look at resettlement seriously eventually.

China’s increasing interest in Afghanistan

China’s increasing interest in Afghanistan has also been welcomed by the new Afghan Regime and it has very little capacity for acting as an irritant for the United States. The latter is content with China’s role in the Central Asian country as long as it leads to peace within the region. Ashraf Ghani’s skill lies in collaborating with the Americans for the initial post-2014 years strategically and with others economically. The Chinese have made it clear that the process must be Afghan-led. China has vowed to build the North-South corridor that extends from Germany and goes all the way up till China. This corridor will pass through Afghanistan and Pakistan and has the capacity to revitalize the economy of the two states.

Another reason for China to invest in Afghanistan economically is to deter militant groups such as the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) from using the latter’s territory to launch attacks against the former. It is essential for China to bring India, Pakistan and Afghanistan together if it is to also contribute to the stabilization of the region. By having a stronghold within Afghanistan, China could allay Pakistani fears in relation to India destabilizing its western borders. Moreover, China’s significant and increasing economic ties with India mean that the latter would not be wholly apprehensive of the former’s role within Afghanistan. However, the extent to which China can act as a harbinger of peace is still uncertain given the shifting nature of regional alliances and the perceived need of the United States to bet on India in the South China Sea.

Counter-Terrorism Collaboration with Pakistan

Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to be closer than ever at understanding and being sensitive to security concerns both of them could have from the other. For instance, Pakistan may have more incentives to collaborate against the Afghan Taliban if it is made assure by the Afghan regime that it will act against TTP sanctuaries on the Afghan side of border. Ashraf Ghani has vowed to do exactly this. After being shown evidence by the Pakistani military that it was targeting militants of all hues in the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan including the Haqqani network, the Afghan President agreed to do take decisive measures against TTP militants’ in Kunar and Nuristan.

Time to restructure perceptions

All rational actors within the region ought not to miss this opportunity to bring peace to the region. This is a juncture in South Asia’s post-colonial history where it is most pertinent to perceive neighbors as partners rather than foes. It is important not to view Afghanistan as being pressurized by external factors to seek alliances rather than acting for its own perceived interests. Indeed, it is Ashraf Ghani himself who wants talks with the Afghan Taliban with Pakistani help. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif merely supported it in lieu of Pakistan’s policy of an Afghan-led peace process rather than it being dictated by external states including Pakistan. Hence, it would make no sense to suggest that Afghanistan is towing the Pakistani line. This is particularly important given that the new Afghan regime’s efforts at finding allies are not exclusive of other states within the region.

This is a key opportunity for Pakistan, India and others to help Afghanistan in enabling it to transition untroubled into the post-2014 era. In order to achieve broader regional peace, India and Pakistan must also find ways to begin the dialogue process once again. The clock for regional peace is ticking and it would be fruitful for states other than Afghanistan to help realize this goal by restructuring their perceptions of the ‘other’.