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India & Afghanistan, Two key foreign policy challenges

On the eastern front, despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s peace overtures to Modi government, Islamabad has little option but to wait and watch as to how Modi goes about business. Mr Modi has yet to articulate his Pakistan policy. However, it is not difficult to identify some of the strands that would define the Indian government’s approach towards Pakistan. New Delhi is likely to tag normalization of relations with Pakistan with the latter’s efforts to end ‘sanctuaries in its backyard’ and show noticeable progress on the trial of Mumbai attack suspects. Modi would also like to elicit an assurance from his counterpart that Pakistani soil would not be used to organize, plan or launch terrorist attacks against India.While Pakistan’s keenness to engage India in a meaningful composite dialogue process represents the right set of foreign policy priorities, the tendency to rush into dialogue without a modicum of reciprocity exudes weakness. Peace is best achieved when the concerned parties equally desire to engage with each other. Pursuit of peace cannot be a unilateral exercise; as they say, it takes two to tango.

Pakistan’s reluctance to grant India the Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) status is also likely to stall resumption of bilateral relationship. Following grant of MFN status to Pakistan, India has looked for a swift reciprocity keeping in view huge market and immense trade opportunities that exist here for the Indian business community.

Pakistan has long complained to India about its involvement in its restive province of Balochistan. Pakistani intelligence agencies have traced links of Baloch insurgents with the Indian agencies. The issue did assume centre-stage during ex-PM Gilani’s meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh in Sharm El-Sheikh on the sidelines of NAM summit whereby Dr Singh promised to look into the matter.On our western border lies Afghanistan which is another ‘battlefield’ where Islamabad and New Delhi are vying for maximum influence and power. The looming US drawdown has further intensified this competition. Pakistan, being the next-door neighbour to Afghanistan, has legitimate interests there. It looks at penetration of the Indian influence in Afghanistan with a pinch of salt. It has been predicted that following US pullout and in the absence of any serious peace and reconciliation initiative, security situation in the war-torn country would worsen. This has direct bearing on Pakistan’s already volatile security situation. It becomes all the more scary when seen in view of long porous Durand Line and the ongoing military action against the terrorists in North Waziristan.

India needs to appreciate Pakistan’s security concerns dispassionately, knowing that a stable and peaceful Pakistan is in India’s interest, and is a factor of stability for the entire South Asian region. It calls for adopting conciliatory approach to negotiate their way out of complex problems. Pakistan has been the worst victim of terrorism itself and has paid a heavy price; a fact that India must acknowledge. The employment of brinkmanship policy aimed at browbeating Pakistan into submission may prove counterproductive for India. Indians should understand that terrorists thrive on irritants and cleavages in relations of both countries. Nothing can be more destabilizing and scary to the terrorists than both countries having excellent bilateral relations.

Pakistan is steeped in a myriad of challenges at internal as well as external fronts. The country faces a fluid situation on its western border. The much-awaited US drawdown from Afghanistan is just a few months away. Though a lot depends on how new political administration in Kabul handles the issues including the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Pakistan needs to carefully analyse the developments in Afghanistan and weigh its options accordingly in view of new political realities.

As for Afghanistan, Pakistan should give up the policy of taking sides, and should stay neutral in the ongoing political instability that has ensued from the presidential election. Pakistan should express its readiness to work with whosoever comes at the helm there after the audit of votes. It should urge all parties including Afghan Taliban to accept the legitimacy of the new government and work with it for the better future of Afghanistan and the whole region.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan has been involved in the blame game since years. While Pakistan has justifiably asked Afghanistan to take action against TTP activists holed up in Afghanistan; from where they have been targeting Pakistani security forces and launching terrorist attacks across the country, the outgoing President Karzai has equally been critical of Pakistan’s links with the Haqqani network for its role in staging attacks in Afghanistan. This blame game would only further aggravate the situation. Both countries should ensure that their respective soils aren’t used for attacks.

Operation Zarb-i-Azb signals Pakistan’s seriousness to eradicate militancy and terrorism. The operation is said to be targeting terrorists indiscriminately, including Haqqanis. It should suffice to satisfy Afghan apprehensions and pave the way for greater cooperation on this front. Pakistan and Afghanistan should take steps to expand trade and economic cooperation, which is central to deepening their relationship.

Peace and stability on Pakistan’s eastern as well as western borders will allow the government a space to focus exclusively on country’s internal problems such as terrorism, economy, and energy. It will also have long-term benefit for peace of the region as well. Hence, a win-win situation for all!

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