The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Spearhead Analysis – 25.04.2014

By Zoon Ahmad Khan
Research Analysts, Spearhead Research – Pakistan

Hamid Karzai and Nawaz Sharif MeetingWithout mutual assistance both Afghanistan and Pakistan will lose the war against extremism.

For the benign observer an arrangement whereby the Pakistan and Afghanistan democratically elected governments can work together as brothers, to keep the region stable, seems to be an unlikely outcome of the events of 2014. Pakistan, in 2011, has elected its second government in an uninterrupted democratic surge. This wave of optimism that followed was perhaps short-lived. As the democratic apparatus strengthens and matures, it creates its own safety nets with survival as the key goal. The media, the army, international image, and the political opposition play that role to harness an acceptable decorum.

Pakistan’s internal mileage has improved with regards to last season’s woes. Even though policies remain rather conventional, backward, one could say ‘Keynesian’. Gone are the days when the international community believed that infrastructural development alone will have a desirable trickledown effect. This strategy may have worked wonders for the West, and the East Asian Tigers, but with the population boom, floods, earthquakes, disease and dearth of education and healthcare, human capital has become the global priority. Still, looking West the Pakistani populace and elected government keeps its focus. The results will either be reaped or the strategy replaced.

But while baby steps in the economic and social sectors have been experienced by most nations, this combination inflicted by security woes is an exceptionally lethal one. We look towards countries previously war-torn to compare our social stability, and lack of it. From Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and other Spring-struck nations in the Middle East: Wars and revolutions leave a country’s base shaken. In Pakistan the conflict is an internal one. The La’al Masjid incident was the final straw, and since 2008 the domestic security conditions have deteriorated.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Pakistan’s very own fundamental extremist Jihadis have targeted government and security personnel, foreign nationals- with un-Islamic agendas, civilians, schools, and even children. Their presence is strong in the Punjab; they have encircled Karachi, Peshawar, and the Northern Tribal belt sharing a border with Afghanistan. Talks with the Taliban can save lives, and are being considered on an equal footing by both the civilian and military top brass as the TTP continue to shed blood of thousands of innocents.

While much has been gauged about the agenda and role of the TTP, the possible effectiveness of ‘talks’ versus a military operation, the impact of the US and ISAF pullout in 2014 will be crucial to Pakistan’s domestic security situation, as will Afghanistan’s on Pakistan’s domestic stability. Pakistan’s leading intellectuals have long believed that Karzai’s government does not enjoy popular support of the Afghanis. An artificially propped government, surviving on aid from the West, and banking on the goodwill of economically strong neighbors like India and China to help build infrastructure, this opinion does resonate with many even within Afghanistan and the US.

But perhaps Pakistan has miscalculated the US’ keenness to prove this war was not in vain. Karzai’s refusal to sign a security agreement with the US, clouded by his sense of Afghan pride, was met coldly by Obama. Karzai is dispensable and the Presidential aspirants picked on this. The truth is they are all dispensable because Afghan interests are second priority in this equation: Stability before Sovereignty is Obama’s motto. Their efforts over thirteen years will be put to test once they leave, and jeopardizing this moment by departing on a bitter note is not fruitful to either party. Especially not after making-up with Iran, the long defined pariah-state: Iran, conceivably the largest concession made by the US to secure Afghanistan’s stability.

Both India and China have been heavily investing in Afghanistan. To secure influence, make their mark; compete in the race towards regional hegemony, and perhaps under the realization that instability has a ripple effect. But between Pakistan and Afghanistan the race has not been conducive to any larger developmental or security aspirations. While both governments talk about building a positive relationship based on mutual trust, and protect each other’s security concerns, this is far from reality. The Afghan-Pakistan relation has been troubled since the Pashtunistan issue, dating back to 1947. Afghanistan was always positively predisposed towards India based on this issue. And owing to Pakistan’s relations with the US, Soviet expansion called for direct intervention in Afghanistan. That these very Jihadis would serve to radicalize and terrorize the Afghan people years down the road was unforeseen. Still past grievances remain relevant, and unfortunately even the US, despite being mostly responsible for the creation of the Taliban, blames Pakistan for maintaining links.

Whether or not Pakistan has maintained links with the Afghan Taliban remains contestable. But according to the popular narrative the Taliban did enjoy more support than an artificially propped government. And it is perhaps this ‘attitude’ that Islamabad has been blamed for. Formally, Pakistan’s PPP and PML-N governments both supported the Karzai government, yet on the borders, the blame-Pakistan rhetoric frequented by strong Presidential candidates like Abdullah Abdullah has served to create disharmony and discord. Like BJP’s Modi, Afghanistan’s opposition have used Pakistan as a punching bag to amass support, leaving Pakistan with no option but to doubt Afghanistan willingness to combat the security challenges that threaten them both.

Today, the National Directorate for Security- Afghanistan’s Intelligence Agency, is believed to be planning invoking Pakistan’s internal demons. Whether rumors about their direct support for the TTP are true, they do resonate theoretically. Afghans also feel that the Pakistan Army and ISI can do more to stop the Afghan Taliban. Abdullah Abdullah, the leading candidate for the Afghan Presidency, is especially wary of Pakistan’s intentions. Like BJP candidates in the past this could be an election strategy, but it may as well be a philosophy the upcoming government plans to adhere by. In which case, both countries can brace themselves for worse domestic unrest, and wastage of precious resources neither can afford.

As a typical case of the Game Theory Prisoner’s Dilemma, it shouldn’t be too hard for the upcoming Afghan government to realize everyone’s a loser in this arrangement. If Abdullah Abdullah’s fears that Pakistan is ‘promoting unrest’ in Afghanistan are even considered true, they should also know that going down that road will only leave Afghanistan worse off. And if one considers that Pakistan’s offer for mutual cooperation is genuine, then rejecting it out of suspicion will only result in a hostile neighbor, capable of causing harm. Lately the sharp accusations made by Afghan media have already made Pakistan cautious, and more hostility will only aggravate the existing enmities.

When the US stresses that Pakistan’s cooperation is crucial to the region’s stability they couldn’t be more accurate. The kind of access both countries have to each other is remarkable. Domestic stability for each is a mutual goal that cannot be achieved alone. The co-dependency Pakistan and Afghanistan have inherited is considered a weakness today, but will become their biggest strength once they start seeing eye-to-eye. In the world of evolving democracies emotional rhetoric is the easiest road to popularity, but as the Afghan democratic discourse evolves, they will realize that mutual assistance and diplomacy is the only way out. Both are victims of a war neither started, and both need to be supportive of the other if they want a way out.