Afghanistan - striking the right balance

Afghanistan – striking the right balance

It remains yet to be seen if the fragile and deeply sensitive house that the West has built will be able to withstand the pressures and strains of the US and NATO withdrawal, and if the Afghan National Army would rise to the challenge and not splinter away.

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By Nasir Chaudhry

There is something terribly amiss in the strategic mindset and the strategic programming calculus of those responsible for formulating ‘policy’ in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. For decades, Afghanistan was ‘strategic depth’ and crossing the Amu Darya River to actualise visions of ‘grandeur’ and Pan-Islamism meant enforcing this fallacy with great relish. The less said the better of what that policy brought to Pakistan. Succinctly put, a radicalised, intolerant society, and a rampant ammunition and drug culture are but the souvenirs of that era, add to that the Taliban and the world can forget about the Wild West forever. I must mention that these parting gifts or souvenirs were given to this nation by that great soldier or Mujahid-e-Islam, General Zia-ul-Haq, whose remains or what remains of them lie buried amidst the scenic Margalla Hills, in the shadow of the Faisal Mosque but to that some other time.

The election of Ashraf Ghani as the President of Afghanistan and his subsequent visit to Pakistan are important. Long before the two candidates could pull the trigger, the Americans stepped in to elevate Ghani to the presidency; this was essential to keep the Pashtun element intact, if the present arrangement will work or how long will it work is another question. But in a break with the past, Ghani travelled to Islamabad and has refrained from the public spat that became a common sight with Karzai at the helm of affairs. Hawkish on Pakistan, Ghani is an astute and wily academic who has largely taught in American universities and understands the baggage and responsibilities of the position that he now occupies. He is aware of the importance and usefulness of Islamabad to Kabul. Pakistan, too, has acted with sense and where it has made its reservations on TTP hideouts in Afghanistan and the unrest in Balochistan springing from Afghan territory clear to its Afghan interlocutors; it has extended a warm hand of friendship towards the new dispensation in Kabul.

Pakistan must understand that keeping a close proximity with the power clique in Afghanistan is essential to the safety and security of the country at a time when NATO is withdrawing and groups within the larger TTP umbrella will fight it out with the Pakistani state to the end. If the latter are provided for by Afghanistan, Pakistan will find things difficult and will be embroiled in a longer struggle to bring peace within its borders. Better relations with Afghanistan will also help ensure that anti-state elements in Balochistan are kept in check and that the struggle does not encourage greater fissiparous tendencies.

For all this to happen, both countries must move away from the mistrust of the past and continue to build on the goodwill and amity that was on display during President Ghani’s visit. They must overcome the trust deficit that characterised Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan during the Karzai years. Pakistan must also step up assistance to Afghanistan, perhaps in the form of humanitarian aid to training of the Afghan National Army, though it is unlikely that Pakistan will be allowed to be given a greater role towards that, particularly in the presence of a strong Indian lobby close to Kabul’s ruling elite. However, Pakistan must assist the ANA with positive means and intentions. The relaxed customs agreements that both governments have agreed too is a step in the right direction. This can be augmented by facilitating the Afghans through the Afghan transit trade and access to Pakistani Free Trading Zones. Pakistan must support the Istanbul process and welcome the involvement and participation of China in such an engagement. Of all regional initiatives, this recent push seems most promising as the inclusion of China should be to Pakistan’s advantage.

The destinies of Afghanistan and Pakistan are intertwined. Both countries have to live with the other. This holds particularly true for Afghanistan. A peaceful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s best interests. However, it remains yet to be seen if the fragile and deeply sensitive house that the West has built will be able to withstand the pressures and strains of the US and NATO withdrawal and if the Afghan National Army would rise to the challenge and not splinter away. If they don’t, this might be extraordinary and promising; if they do, which is likely, Pakistan would have a case and would have to deal with, like it or not, those who are waiting in the shadows to clinch the final prize, Kabul.

Nasir Chaudhry is a freelance columnist and political analyst based in Islamabad, Pakistan. He works in the oil and gas sector and can be reached at m_nasir08@hotmail.com.

This article was originally published by Pakistan Today and is available by clicking here.


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