Interview with Rahimullah Yusufzai, Veteran Journalist and Renowned Afghan Affairs Analyst

Rahimullah Yusufzai

“Dealing with Indian influence in Afghanistan is a crucial test for Pakistan”

Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): Do you see any change in Pakistan’s foreign policy dimensions especially when a new regime has taken over?

Rahimullah Yousafzai (RY): Well, the foreign policy that the present regime has enunciated, at least at regional level, manifests Pakistan’s desire to improve relations, especially in trade realm, with India while equally focusing on Afghanistan. In case of Afghanistan, there are, basically, two main reasons: First, the present government aspires to avert the spillover of US and NATO drawdown to the maximum possible extent by cooperating with the Afghan government without any sort of favouritism. Second, to counter the terrorism menace, present government wants to engage with Afghanistan and extend mutual cooperation at multiple levels because terrorists do have safe havens in Afghanistan that is a matter of grave concern for Pakistan.

JWT: Do you think that the present government wield enough power to carve out and implement a new Afghan Policy because Pakistan’s military establishment had always influenced the foreign policy making process?

RY: Yes, the present government, apparently, is more empowered in the foreign policy formulation than its predecessors. But, I think it would be wrong to believe that it is fully-empowered as the military establishment still has a considerable say in this domain. However, regarding the role of military establishment in the context of ‘Strategic Depth Policy’, I would say, it is over now. Do remember that the strategic depth cannot be achieved if it is not popular among the masses. In fact, this policy has earned hatred for Pakistan among the people of Afghanistan. This policy was initiated by former Army Chief General Aslam Baig and today, it is no more applicable in Pakistan.

JWT: As you know, NATO and US forces are about to leave Afghanistan. Keeping in view the 1989 Soviet withdrawal and its impacts on Pakistan, how do you foresee the post-2014 Afghanistan?

RY: Well, at that time neither the Soviets used electronic media to rationalize their presence in Afghanistan nor the independent electronic media was in the limelight. But, in case of US and NATO forces, everyone agrees that they used mass media to justify their intervention, and highlight their development work, in Afghanistan. But apart from these exaggerated claims and media campaign, the problems of Afghanistan are still the same, and I’m afraid it will be as vulnerable and instable as it was at the time of Soviet withdrawal.

JWT:  How can we make Afghanistan an asset to Pakistan?

RY: Yes, we surely can do so. Both countries have a lot to share. For instance, we can have joint water management system along with enhancing bilateral trade because Afghanistan in itself is a big market for Pakistan. Besides, it can provide direct access to the Central Asian markets. Furthermore, the security issues, drug trafficking, border management, etc., can be dealt with jointly through mutual cooperation. I must say that the enormous potential has not been utilized in positive direction. Exploiting this is still inevitable, if we want to make Afghanistan an asset but again choice lies with the governments of both countries how they arrange their priorities.

JWT: How do you see the Indian influence in Afghanistan and its implications us?

RY: Actually, Indians want to remain in Afghanistan in order to ensure that the land of Afghanistan may not be used against them. So, they made huge investments there and Indian instructors, too, are training Afghan security forces that is, definitely, worrisome for Pakistan. And I don’t agree with the statement of Indian strategic analyst Maj Gen (R) Ashok Mehta that India is not giving weapons to Karzai administration as far as his recent visit is concerned in order to address sensitivities of Pakistan. I am surprised that they realized the sensitivities of Pakistan after a decade! I must say it is merely a statement. Furthermore, Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies back the terrorist activities in Balochistan as well as Taliban’s presence in some parts of Balochistan. So, dealing with Indian influence in Afghanistan is a crucial test for Pakistan’s diplomats and the farsightedness of its civil and military leadership.

JWT: How do you rate the performance of present government in the ambits of law and order, and foreign affairs?

RY: Well, they are trying their level best but they have to cope with the challenges beyond their expectations. I mean they never thought about the magnitude of challenges such as terrorism, energy crisis, economy, etc. Let’s wait and see what future has in store for us because at present, in my opinion, it would be premature to comment on performance of the present government.

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