Afghanistan recently witnessed two important developments. The first was the return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to Kabul after signing a peace deal with the Ashraf Ghani government and the consequent immunity granted by the Afghanistan government. The second was the visit of a high-powered parliamentary delegation from Pakistan, headed by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.
The return of Hekmatyar received a polarised response in Afghanistan. The decision to include him in repasturising the conflict-ridden country has been interpreted positively within the official circles in Kabul. However, the people’s response has been largely unwelcoming owing to Hekmatyar’s violent actions, particularly after the fall of Dr Najibullah’s administration in 1992.
In these circumstances, neither the government’s approach nor the people’s outlook can be outrightly forsaken. The outcry of the Afghans – particularly those affected by Hekmatyar’s actions – cannot be discounted. But from Ashraf Ghani’s perspective, it is more important to protect the future of Afghanistan by putting an end to the conflict ignited by the proxy war. Strategic essentialism compels him to think about the present and the future more than the painful past.
At the moment – irrespective of Hekmatyar’s future behaviour and role – Ashraf Ghani managed to delegitimise and take the ideological wind out of the proxy war. The acceptance of the current constitutional and political system by Hekmatyar, an erstwhile extremist, blunted the Taliban’s condition of backing the constitutional system in favour of their self-defined Islamic system or emirate.
Hekmatyar needs to harness his remaining energies to play a role in ensuring peace and prosperity of Afghanistan. The street protests which erupted after his arrival in Kabul are a constant reminder that he is heavily indebted to Afghanistan and its long-suffering people. Hekmatyar is well-placed to understand that fantasies are often divorced from reality. Extremism wrapped in any form has, so far, not delivered when it is used as an instrument or a weapon for political power. The president of Afghanistan might have the right to grant amnesty for Hekmatyar’s crimes, but he cannot grant amnesty for his sins. They might be somewhat atoned if he devotes himself to achieving peace and turn Afghanistan into a democratic and economically prosperous state.
The second important event was a two-day visit on April 29 of a broad-based representative parliamentary delegation from Pakistan on Ghani’s invitation. Fortunately, the gory attack of April 21, 2017 by the Taliban on an army base in Balkh in North Afghanistan did not derail the visit.
The visit was the outcome of the proposal and initiative of Mahmood Khan Achakzai that materialised on March 30 when President Ashraf Ghani formally dispatched a letter via email to Nawaz Sharif, welcoming the initiative.
Amid the tense relations and growing mistrust between the two neighbouring states, the initiative of parliamentary diplomacy is a step in the right direction.
Irrespective of the policy environment and the hold of the civilians on Afghanistan-related foreign policy, the warm reception extended to the delegation by the Afghan government and President Ashraf Ghani’s bilateral discussion which spanned over six hours, are a good omen and sign of trust. This indicates that if parliament asserts its due constitutional role in policy formulation, particularly with regard to foreign policy, it can pull the country out of some of its current security and diplomatic nightmares.
If history is anything to go by, civilian initiatives regarding security policy and relations between Afghanistan and India have often been followed by hiccups.
The Jindal visit as a backchannel between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan and the visit of the parliamentary delegation to Afghanistan were overshadowed by the DG ISPR’s tweet on PM Nawaz Sharif’s order regarding the Dawn leaks. However, the reception of the delegation in Kabul and the backchannel contact by Indian Prime Minister Modi indicate that the two neighbouring states with which Pakistan has tense relations are at least ready to talk. We must also hope that the recent clashes on the Chaman border will not serve as deterrents for parliament to pursue this bilateral initiative.
Politics is the art of possibility and diplomacy is vested in pragmatism. Both fail if the same rut is followed. Ashraf Ghani has taken a difficult and unpopular decision towards broader reconciliation by embracing Hekmatyar.
The state of Pakistan should also realise that foreign policy and international relations cannot be seen through a self-defined security lens only. The maximalist objectives defined through the security paradigm do not constitute the entirety of our national interests. We need to forsake the illusionary paradigmatic lens and view the stark geo-economic realities through the optics of the civilians.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
He tweets MirSwat