After a prolonged ambience of mistrust and incessant blame games between Afghanistan and Pakistan, there appears to be a realisation by leaders on both sides to reverse the course.
Both countries concluded the fourth meeting of the Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) on May 14 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is, indeed, a positive development because dialogue and continued engagement are essential ingredients in resolving conflicts and removing kinks in relations between both states. The meeting came weeks after the prime minister’s visited Afghanistan to reduce the climate of mistrust.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited Afghanistan during the first week of April on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s invitation. Both leaders reportedly discussed a whole range of bilateral relations. Peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan; counterterrorism; the return of Afghan refugees; regional connectivity; and bilateral trade were on the agenda for these talks. During the visit, both leaders agreed that the peace, prosperity and the stability of both countries were interlinked. They also reaffirmed their commitment to regional connectivity – just as they had done in Herat on February 23 while jointly inaugurating the inclusion of the TAPI Gas Pipeline from Turkmenistan into Afghanistan.
The other outcomes of the bilateral parleys included an agreement to revive the APAPPS, which provided a broad-based and structured engagement on all issues of mutual interests. Another result was the early convening of the Joint Economic Commission to take forward the planning and implementation of key rail, road, gas pipeline and energy projects that would integrate Pakistan and Afghanistan with Central Asia.
The bilateral talks helped both countries move forward on the Chaman-Kandahar-Herat railway line, the Peshawar-Kabul Motorway, and other connectivity projects that can help realise the tremendous potential of South and Central Asian regions by providing shortest access through the seaports of Gwadar and Karachi. There was also an emphasis on the early completion of TAPI and CASA-1000 projects. Both countries also renewed the call to the Taliban to respond positively to the peace offer and join the peace process without delay. There was also a consensus by both leaders that terrorism was a common threat and that the soils of both countries shouldn’t be used for anti-state activities against each other.
Perhaps the most important agreement was on the point that the Afghan conflict could not be resolved through military might. The emphasis was, therefore, on devising a political solution as it was the best way forward. This mirrored Pakistan’s stance on the policy announced by US President Trump on South Asia. Afghanistan’s endorsement of this view represents a departure from its earlier approach when it fully agreed with the new Trump initiative.
The fact that both sides recognised the importance of dialogue to resolve the contentious issue is a positive move. We have seen similar initiatives in the past as well. Unfortunately, no credible headway could be made to achieve the desired objectives. As a result, relations between the countries have remained mired in an ambience of mistrust and mutual blame games.
No one will take issue with the fact that peace in Pakistan is linked to peace in Afghanistan and the former would be the last country to wish for the continuation of conflict in the latter. Peace in Afghanistan is also crucial to regional connectivity and the success of CPEC in which Pakistan has the highest stakes. Any view to the contrary is a negation of the ground realities.
The sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in the war on terror and its continued commitment to find an amicable solution of the Afghan conundrum prove that the country’s anti-terrorism credentials were beyond reproach. The US suspicion regarding Pakistan reflects its inability to understand the complexities of the situation and its impulsive streak to find a fall guy for its failures in Afghanistan, even after 16 years of a war that has cost trillions of dollars and innumerable casualties.
Although Afghanistan and Pakistan have an abiding interest in ending the war in Afghanistan and consider terrorism to be the common enemy, the conflict in Afghanistan and peace in the region are not possible until the US not only realises and acknowledges the ground realities but also changes its policy accordingly.
The reality is that the government in Afghanistan is not in a position to take any major decision without a nod of approval from America. The policy announced by Trump on South Asia is a perfect recipe for aggravating the conflict in Afghanistan – as is evident from the increased incidents of terrorism in the country since the policy was announced. Therefore, a great deal depends on the change in America’s policy and the sincerity of purpose in finding an amicable and lasting solution to the Afghan conflict.
But the US isn’t sincere in finding a solution to the Afghan war. America won’t leave the country, notwithstanding its expressed commitment to do so. It would instead keep the situation in Afghanistan fluid to foment instability in the region and, thereby, achieve its strategic interests in this part of the globe. There is a consensus among intellectuals, security experts and analysts in this regard. Many believe that the IS has America’s blessings to operate in Afghanistan. Some international sources also hold the US responsible for the emergence of Daesh.
America’s attempts to destabilise the region are an important ingredient of its global politics and desire to obstruct China’s emergence as an economic and military power in the world. It has found an ally in India to further its strategic interests and curb the burgeoning influence of China in the region and beyond. Peace in the region doesn’t suit the US. In connivance with India, it is willing to go to any extent to sabotage CPEC, which it considers to be a major initiative that could help China become a global power in the near future.
The portents for peace in the region, therefore, are not too encouraging. It appears as though the cold-war era has reemerged – as is indicated by the recent tit-for-tat expulsion of the diplomatic staff by the US and its allies and Russia, with all its negative repercussions for the region. Trump’s trade war with China is yet another indicator for the things to come. In the emerging scenario, the best way for Pakistan to protect its strategic and economic interests would be to align itself with the countries of the region – Russia, China and Iran – and strengthen its role in the SCO. Pakistan belongs to South Asia and its security and prosperity are inextricably linked with it.
The writer is a freelance contributor.