Pakistan’s interests must be protected
India and Afghanistan have joined hands against Pakistan and China’s joint venture, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Chabahar Port, which India is constructing in Iran as a counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, is being portrayed as a competitor and an alternative to CPEC, and a better option for routing Afghanistan’s transit trade. Besides opportunities for trade and business, instability in Afghanistan also creates more ground for India’s major role in Afghan politics. Hence, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has multidimensional implications for Pakistan. Due to unending insurgency and conflict, Pakistan’s stakes inside Afghanistan and its plans of westward expansion are under extreme threat. Moreover, projects with Central Asian Republics (CARs) are also deemed to face serious security issues.
Despite Pakistan’s unrelenting commitment toward restoration of peace and incessant efforts to boost Afghanistan’s economy, Pak-Afghan trade has been on a continuous decline as it has fallen from $2.5b to $1b in the past two years. There are many reasons behind this fall but the principal one is that a major chunk of Afghan goods has been shifted to Chabahar Port. In addition, Afghan traders generally have been wary of Pakistan’s tariff rules and strict policies, and they have consistently criticized them. Although the presence of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) provided ample space for Afghan traders to use Pakistan’s territory as transit for import and/or export of goods, yet they have concerns and have expressed them at various platforms, time and again. The inclusion of India in this bilateral agreement is their prime demand which Pakistan is not ready to fulfil, owing to certain concerns.
While talking to media during his recent visit to India, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that Pakistan would not be allowed access to Central Asia because it did not allow the inclusion of India in APTTA. Obviously, Afghan high-ups adopt a typical anti-Pakistan tone and tenor while speaking inside India or USA. Moreover, after President Trump’s new South Asia policy in which he has envisioned a major role for India in Afghanistan, there has been a considerable change in the attitude and tone of Afghan president. Whether it was his speech in the UN General Assembly or his discussions in various meetings with Indian Prime Minister and President, his gestures exude his malice against Pakistan and support of Indian designs for future engagements in Afghanistan.
India is the fifth largest country in terms of providing aid and helping Afghanistan in its development and rehabilitation. The construction of railway track from Iran border to Herat, about 200 public and private schools, construction of Parliament building in Kabul, Salma Dam in Herat, provision of about a thousand scholarships to Afghan students in India and gift of buses to Aryana are some of the areas where India has invested and is also expanding its clout to other related areas gradually.
On the other hand, Pakistan has always been there to help its Afghan brothers and sisters. The unconditional presence of Afghan refugees on Pakistani soil for the last four decades presents an unprecedented example of brotherhood between the two nations. Moreover, Pakistan has also provided training to Afghan forces in Pakistan Military Academy Kakul, constructed a 500-bed hospital in Kabul, provided medical facilities to Afghan citizens and owing to the presence of thousands of refugee students in educational institutions in Pakistan, Higher Education Commission of Pakistan provides about five thousand scholarships to Afghans in Pakistani universities.
The role of Pakistan in Afghan peace process is known to everyone and, in this sense, Pakistan’s commitment to achieving a lasting peace in Afghanistan is laudable. Other than unofficial talks and various Track II initiatives, Pakistan has been part of the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, Murree Peace Talks, Quadrilateral Coordination Group, the Russian Initiative for Afghan Peace and the Kabul Process. At every forum, Pakistan has supported an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peace process.
Furthermore, Pakistan is the only country directly affected by the conflict in Afghanistan. No single field of life of Pakistanis has remained unaffected by the insurgency and militancy on the other side of the Durand Line. Its sovereignty has been consistently violated but Pakistan tolerated that for the sake of revival of peace in Afghanistan. But, unfortunately, when the game is nearing its end and its result is zero-sum, Pakistan is blamed for the failure of the coalition forces, and a regional player, which has only a few interests in Afghanistan, is poised to be given more weight in the future of Afghanistan. It must be clear if someone has concerns in Afghanistan; Pakistan has stakes there!
Involving a state that can jeopardize the stakes of another state in Afghanistan will beget chances of more conflict than cooperation. Resultantly, the country will be heading toward more chaos and anarchy.
In the recent past, there has been a considerable rise in Indian, Chinese and Iranian influence in Afghanistan while that of the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has declined a lot. Despite commitment to Afghanistan’s development, China got more involved due to the threat of the presence of ISIS and its possible footprint in its Sinkiang province. The alliance of India and Iran for trade and other areas have bolstered their influence. In the meantime, the propaganda against Pakistan was more highlighted and its influence is being diminished, despite its uncountable services for the Afghan state and society.
To conclude the whole debate, the global and regional players should realize that the ground realities in Afghanistan need to be taken into consideration before deciding the future of the country. They should increase cooperation between Pakistan and India in and out of Afghanistan instead of creating more schisms and rifts between the two nuclear neighbours. India should play a bigger role in economic assistance of Afghanistan but it should not be at the cost of Pakistan’s stakes and interests in Afghanistan. The Afghan government should also try to bridge the gap between the two players instead of becoming a party to their conflicts and thereby try to weaken its immediate neighbour and a time-tested brother and friend.
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