The Pak-Afghan relations have been on a thorny road since Pakistan’s establishment in 1947.
Notwithstanding the tremendous long-term potential, the promises of bilateral trade and investment cooperation in the oil and gas sectors (with especial reference to the Caspian Sea oil), small industries, banking, education and even transportation still remain unfulfilled. Internationally, Pakistan and Afghanistan are in a mood to reverse their Cold War strategic roles. A rising Kabul intensifies its regional proactive diplomacy aimed at curtailing negative role by the neighbouring countries inside its borders. And, on the other hand, a retrenched Pakistan pursues a minimalist- passively reactive policy in Afghanistan to counter Indian designs in its background.
The Pak-Afghan relations have been on a thorny road since Pakistan’s establishment in 1947. They oscillated from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s bitter ideological split and cross-border hostilities to Pakistan’s active role during the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan during 1979-1988 and in the 1990s. During the post-2001 period, they enjoyed normal state-to-state relations though not for long. They avoided war but had profound disagreements including the Durand line border. Both countries, led by a new generation of Westernised pragmatic leaders, now focus on their domestic economic growth, political stability, secure borders and cross-border terrorism. Although they strive for a docile relationship between the two countries, they shy away from more aggressive goals of rebuilding trust between the two erstwhile untrustworthy countries. It’s a negation to a friendly neighbourly relationship.
The strategic neighbourhood is designed to tilt to one another’s shoulders in global affairs to avoid war or a proxy war and develop together in harmony. They often support the frequently-stated principles of counterterrorism policies, cooperation to counter terrorism, state sovereignty, non-interference in domestic affairs and a joint strategy to eliminate terrorism in the region. Islamabad and Kabul are both part of the US-led international coalition fighting against global terrorism, separatism and religious extremism. However, beyond this they do not share common political, military, national security and economic interests. Every next week, the top leadership of the two countries pronounces hostile statements and blames each other for interference in internal affairs respectively. Geographically neighbours, Pakistan and Afghanistan are strategically policy-wise far apart. Both have totally failed to stand together against their common enemy’ Al-Qaeda.
Though Osama Bin Laden is dead, and Al-Qaeda’s backbone is fractured, many Afghans fear that once the West leaves them alone, their country will plunge into a civil war. Will their powerful neighbours, including Pakistan, continue their interference in the landlocked Afghanistan or agree to a stability pact and non-interference? Al-Qaeda is still present here and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan are working with full force. Take the case of the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan). Their modus operandi is just like Al-Qaeda and they are doing utmost damage to the state. Nobody knows for sure as to how they will react to the US pullout from Afghanistan. Their future policies will be more focused in the aftermath of the Arab movements.
The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan depends on making peace with the Taliban. This would leave a self-sustaining Afghan government and army to take over the responsibilities of security, governance and development in the post-2014 Afghanistan. However, regional security is essential if Afghanistan is to survive. Unfortunately, peace talks between the Taliban and the US have not been contributed by Pakistan. Islamabad has always been in the hub of the Afghan affairs.
No-one can deny the fact that Pakistan was the frontline ally of the West during the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. Similarly, Pakistan provided vital logistical and intelligence support to the US and its NATO allies during their attack on Afghanistan in 2001. Now peace talks sans Pakistan between the vital stakeholders (Taliban and the US in Doha), the natural phenomenon of a successful diplomacy will not work. It goes without saying that Pakistan is an important country in the peace-building process concerning Afghanistan. So ignoring such an important country will be tantamount to a fragile peace in Afghanistan.
With the US-NATO withdrawal in 2014, a friendly relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan becomes a prerequisite of a successful strategy for the entire region. The truth is that the West can no longer afford to fight in Afghanistan. According to a public poll, 70% Europeans oppose the Afghan war. The number of people, in the US, opposed to war is around 60 per cent. Between year 2001 and 2010, the US spent a total of $444 billion in Afghanistan, including $25 billion each for economic development and Afghan security forces.
Precisely, Afghan President Hamid Karzai seems to have lost trust not only of a large number of Afghans but also the international community. He has failed to improve governance, tackle corruption or carry out free and fair election. He is at the loggerheads with the Pakistani administration. President Karzai normally blames Pakistan for his bad governance and militancy in his country. His faulty counterterrorism policies hit back. But he blames Pakistan for his failure. He appears to be wrapped in contradictions and enigmas. If there is to be an effective transition toward self government, then a clear-headed visionary Afghan leadership is needed. Such leadership will look at the future while keeping cordial and friendly relations with the neighbours including Pakistan.
As the endgame approaches, intense competition has developed among Afghanistan’s neighbours including Iran, Pakistan, China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. These countries have a long and bloody record of monumental interference in Afghanistan. In case of fragile peace in Afghanistan in the post-2014 era, they would probably be preparing for moving in once again, recruiting their proxies among the Afghan warlords and spending money and exerting influence in the country. Afghanistan cannot be stable unless its neighbours like India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia agree on non-interference. Regional diplomacy is the need of the hour for a longer and lasting peace for Pakistan and Afghanistan alike.
The US policy and strategy have not been shared with its allies. It must clarify what relationship it wants to have with Afghanistan, Pakistan and the wider region after its withdrawal in 2014. The US must stop surprises for Afghanistan and Pakistan. A policy and strategy known to its allies will be more comprehensive, effective and pragmatic. This will further make Pakistan and Afghanistan sit together to contain the common enemy — the terrorists. As long as strategic in interests of the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan are in conflict, peace in the region will not be possible.
After comprehensive negotiations, Pakistan and Afghanistan need to launch a stability-operation in the two countries. It must be creative and share capabilities. Trade and commercial agreements are possible only after peace and security in the region. Once stability is established, oil and gas projects of the Caspian Sea will shower fortune upon the region.
Pakistan and Afghanistan must support each other if the process of political reconciliation is to remain on track. It will result in a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan which will be a guarantee for the entire region. The alternative is that the entire region falls into the abyss.