New Age Islam Edit Bureau
November 5, 2017
Pakistan’s Afghan problem
By Dr Hasan Askari
Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Cost of ignoring Afghanistan’s ground realities
By Rustam Shah Mohmand
The scene is
frightening in Afghanistan. There is an exponential increase in the number of
deadly attacks on the police, Army personnel and civilians. Not only that the
remnants of Islamic State (IS) have targeted mosques in both the capital and in
Ghor province. Training centres, police headquarters and convoys have also been
attacked all over the country. Casualties have mounted.
The bloodbath has
caused consternation and anger forcing former president Hamid Karzai to demand
the immediate convening of a Loya Jirga or a grand national assembly to take
stock of the worsening security situation and take vital decisions on how to
deal with the enormous challenge the country is confronting. As grim as the
situation is, it is sadly not evoking any vigorous or constructive response
from all the major stakeholders. The Afghan government, ensconced in Kabul and
sustained by massive infusion of external funding, is desperately seeking to
protect the status quo of which they are the principal beneficiaries.
long as it does not impinge on the rulers’ positions, perks and powers is
The regime would
support the mainstreaming of Taliban only if the movement would agree to be
assimilated in the ‘systems’ that are currently in vogue in the country. In
other words, surrender.
The US approach is
even more complex and paranoid. It is not prepared to lay down goals that are
sought to be achieved. Washington is not revealing its overarching objectives
in a regional perspective that it is seeking to promote. Whether the US is
prepared to withdraw its forces once reconciliation is reached between the
Taliban and Kabul, is not clear. Doubts persist in the absence of a clear
strategy. Many believe the Americans are in Afghanistan for a long haul to
achieve the following objectives: keep a menacing eye on Pakistan’s nuclear
development programme; not cede space to China for establishing its hegemony in
the region; establish its relevance in the context of the One Belt, One Road
project of China; and derive some benefit from exploitation of Afghanistan’s
vast mineral reserves that are estimated in value at $1.5 trillion.
There are reports of
the US covertly encouraging and supporting the rise of IS in Afghanistan as a
counterweight to Taliban, and also to keep the pot boiling so that the military
presence is seen as necessary and justified. The other goal is to weaken the
Taliban by making them fight on multiple fronts.
Pakistan does not seem
to have any clear policy on how best to bring about reconciliation between the
Taliban and the Afghan government, which would also take care of the US
concerns in the area. It has oscillated between positions of collaboration with
the US to seeking convergence with Kabul on some issues that, unfortunately,
ignore the objective realities.
Other than persuading
some Taliban representatives (those few that Islamabad has some leverage with)
to come to the negotiating table, there is no clear vision on how could a
workable framework be created for resolving the conflict. The problem with all
three stakeholders is that they are ignoring the ground realities in
Afghanistan. Any attempt to help resolve the conflict can only succeed when it
is premised on addressing the root cause of the insurgency. Peripheral measures
or treating the symptoms while the fundamental cause that has brought the
country to this state, would not deliver.
Islamabad, Washington and Kabul are welcome but the problem would not go away
by undertaking visits and issuing conciliatory statements. As the insurgency
gains further deadly momentum, Afghans across the country are worried, angry
and terribly frustrated. Hundreds of thousands have left the country — some
offering themselves for recruitment in Iranian militias to fight in Syria.
Unemployment has surged, drug addiction is alarming and soldiers deserting the
army are a lingering headache.
No step towards
normalisation would work unless the root cause, ie, the issue of the presence
of foreign forces is addressed. That can only happen if the following
conditions are met:
1) The Taliban convert
their movement into a political organisation with a clear manifesto that cuts
across the ethnic and sectarian divide in the country.
2) Kabul must not
insist on mainstreaming the resistance on its own terms; the regime has to be
willing to make compromises that include giving up positions of authority,
which is is not going to happen anytime soon.
3) The US has to be
unequivocal on its position with regard to the withdrawal of all its forces
after a consensus has been reached and an accord signed between the Taliban and
4) Pakistan must begin
to vigorously pursue the reconciliation efforts that would address the root
cause, namely the eventual withdrawal of foreign forces within a stipulated period
of time following an agreement between the Taliban and other pro-government
5) China’s role as a
mediator must be acknowledged and respected. The Taliban would rely more on
Chinese mediation realising that Beijing would not be pressured by the US.
There are no prospects
for any breakthrough in the foreseeable future because none of the stakeholders
are ready to confront the ground realities. The stalemate, death, destruction
and the accompanying suffering and misery will, regrettably, continue. A
destabilised Afghanistan will have profound implications for the
Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline project, Casa 1000, CPEC and
many other regional programmes for socioeconomic emancipation for millions of
downtrodden people of the region.
Te stakes are high.
But peace is being obstructed by the Kabul regime’s concerns for its inclusion
and survival and the US’s preoccupation with its regional, hegemonic agenda.
By Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi
The issues and
problems between Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot be simply described as
bilateral interaction. This relationship has become so complex over the years
that it now touches all the major aspects of Pakistan’s foreign policy and
external and internal security. The political and security fallout of the
internal strife in Afghanistan impacts not only Pakistan but it also causes
problems for several countries in the neighbourhood and beyond. Some countries
use this issue to pursue their regional agendas or use it to, among other
things, for Pakistan bashing.
This does not mean
that Afghanistan has cultivated political, economic and diplomatic clout of
global dimensions. Afghanistan is far from it. The long-drawn internal strife
dating back to the early 1980s and American involvement in Afghanistan that
manifested differently in the 1980s and in the post-September 2001 period have
impacted regional and global politics negatively. All this has made the
management of the Afghanistan problem difficult for Pakistan.
Pakistan cannot view
the Afghan problem merely as a bilateral issue because the foreign policy and
security choices that Afghanistan makes, including its policy towards Pakistan,
are shaped by the internal power politics in Kabul as well as by the influence
that the US and India exercise over Afghanistan’s foreign and security policy.
The increased interest of China, Russia, Iran and the states of Central Asia
has also to be taken into account. As the issues of terrorism, stability and
peace cannot be settled exclusively at the bilateral Pak-Afghan level, the
Afghan problem should be viewed as a bilateral-cum-multilateral issue.
The US does not want
to talk about its role in creating Islamic militancy in the Pak-Afghan region
in the 1980s to oust the military of the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan.
Currently, the US plans to maintain its limited military presence in
Afghanistan for an indefinite period and demands that Pakistan should serve the
counterterrorism agenda as set out by Washington. The US now judges Pakistan’s
counterterrorism efforts on the basis of their relevance to achieving American
agenda of subduing the Afghan Taliban and their allies. It hardly pays any
attention to what bothers Pakistan in Afghanistan’s troubled situation and its
difficulties in taking military action against the Afghan Taliban that come to
Pakistan because they overlap with about three million registered and unregistered
Afghan refugees and local Pashtun population. Similarly, the US neither joins
with Pakistan nor encourages Afghanistan to do so in Pakistan’s efforts to
strengthen security on the Pak-Afghan border so as to curtail unauthorised
two-way movement of people and fighters across this border. The US and
Afghanistan manifest similar indifference towards the permanent presence of
Pakistani Taliban and their Pakistani allies in three Afghan provinces adjacent
to the Pak-Afghan border.
Pakistan, the US and
Afghanistan need to evolve a shared approach to deal with terrorism in and
around Afghanistan through a regular dialogue that equally accommodates their
security concerns. Public denunciation of Pakistan by the US or American public
statements on the time frame for Pakistan to take action against the terrorist
elements identified by the US are not going to be helpful.
The strident US
disposition towards Pakistan has encouraged the Kabul government to display a
similarly negative attitude towards the country and it treats Pakistan as the
sole culprit for the inability of the Kabul government and American troops
based in Afghanistan to eliminate the Afghan Taliban. India also is encouraging
Afghanistan to adopt a tough policy towards Pakistan. The Afghan president
talked recently about the need of establishing a criterion to judge how far
Pakistan is taking action against the Afghan Taliban rather than working
together with Islamabad to deal with all kinds of terrorists in both countries.
Now, China and Russia
are endeavouring hard to seek a regional solution to the Afghan problem at the
bilateral and multilateral level by taking other states of the region in
confidence. Though these efforts have not produced any significant result,
Chinese and Russian interest in seeking an amicable solution of the Afghan
problem is evoking much interest in Pakistan and elsewhere in the region.
As different states
are manifesting deep interest in Afghanistan and playing their ‘games’ with
reference to the Afghan imbroglio, Pakistan will have to strengthen its
multilateral diplomacy with a focus on winning the confidence of as many states
as possible that are directly involved in the Afghan problem. Time has come to
go beyond the oft-repeated statement that Pakistan has made massive sacrifices
in the war on terrorism and that it has suffered more financial losses than
what it received as economic assistance and loans.
Instead of blowing
Pakistan’s own trumpet on Afghanistan, its policymakers should pay more attention
to the imperatives of global politics. They need to make a strong attempt to
address the complaints of other states about Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy,
even if these complaints are based on faulty information. This must be coupled
with a cogent and convincing presentation of Pakistan’s concerns about the
situation in Afghanistan, especially the issue of two-way unauthorised
cross-border movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Another issue that
needs to be explained to the international community is that New Delhi’s
belligerent approach towards Islamabad complicates Pakistan’s security
problems, and slows down its efforts to manage the tribal areas and the border
Instead of issuing
polemical statements to counter American, Afghan and Indian assertions on
internal strife and terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan needs a new multilateral
diplomacy that takes into account the complexity of the Afghan problem and the
varied interest of different states with an unambiguous view of what is
possible on long- and short-term bases.