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Friday August 12, 2022

Our Afghanistan policy

September 11, 2021

The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.

With the installation of an interim Taliban cabinet, the process of government formation has marked a step forward in the pursuit of returning Afghanistan to some semblance of normalcy. Mainly consisting of the old guard Taliban leaders, many of whom have been on the UN terror list, on the face of it, the new Afghan cabinet inspires little confidence.

Those who pinned their hopes on the ‘reformed’ Taliban to have learned their lessons and walked the talk are a bit dismayed at the composition of the new government. It is mainly Taliban-dominated and does not have an inclusive and broad-based representation from other political, tribal, ethnic, and women groups.

The fact that the newly announced set-up is interim in nature and has been put together to deliver essential governance and stop chaos from persisting still inspires some hope in the final governance model being more representative and inclusive.

As the world prepares itself to come to terms with the post-America and Taliban-led Afghanistan, a much-detested scenario not long ago, Pakistan stays engaged with the new rulers in Kabul to facilitate the evacuation of thousands of foreigners including journalists. Pakistan’s embassy remains the busiest foreign mission, frequented by those looking to avoid uncertainty and insecurity in a war-torn country.

The events of the past few months have placed Pakistan’s Afghan policy at the heart of global discourse. The beeline of foreign ministers and other key officials visiting Islamabad to hold talks with the Pakistani authorities in the wake of the changed Afghan landscape represents the recognition of Pakistan’s central role as a stabilising force in the region. At a broader level, it also acknowledges the efficacy of the Pakistani’s consistent position on the Afghan imbroglio.

Without Pakistan’s effective role, the Doha peace agreement would neither have been concluded for the United States to end its 20-year-old combat mission nor would evacuations have taken place at such a massive level after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.

Consumed by rage after 9/11, as the US prepared for an attack on Afghanistan for housing Osama bin Laden, Pakistan advised restraint. Inherent in this sensible advice was a recommendation to the US to politically engage the Taliban as legitimate stakeholders.

Had the Bush administration heeded this piece of advice back then, the US would not have had to cut and run from Afghanistan today and fought the longest war in its history at such a high cost to its global prestige.

Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy has been informed by an experience of the past forty years as well as the hard realities of a country that is globally known as the ‘graveyard of empires’. From PM Imran Khan to FM Qureshi to Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistani leaders have been emphatic in highlighting the need for a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

At the heart of this policy has been a consensus between the Pakistani civil and military leadership that a military solution will fail to bring about lasting peace in Afghanistan and will invariably be followed by more bloodshed, strife, and protracted fighting.

In addition to helping the US-Taliban negotiations become successful, Pakistan worked with friends and allies as part of various regional peace initiatives to allow for a peaceful and rules-based transfer of power, duly agreed to by the Afghan parties.

Be it the Extended Troika consisting of the US, China, Russia, and Pakistan, or the Russia- and China-led dialogue process or any other peace endeavour, Pakistan has been at the forefront of these disparate peace efforts. Despite the Ghani administration’s often scathing criticism of Islamabad, holding it responsible for its own failures, Pakistan did not shy away from working with Kabul to provide a push to an intra-Afghan peace and reconciliation process.

In the event of the Taliban’s takeover, Pakistan has joined the international community in calling for an inclusive government in Afghanistan, knowing full well the consequences of failure on this count as the foremost neighbouring country.

As a responsible member of the international community, Islamabad has also impressed upon the rulers in Kabul the need to ensure that Afghan soil is not used for terrorism against other regional countries.

The reference here is to the renewed threat posed by the TTP-led terror syndicate to peace and stability in Pakistan. Pakistan has witnessed an uptick in violence in recent months and these attacks have clear TTP signatures.

Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy has also sought to advocate global engagement by highlighting the interests of the Afghan people. The international community has rightly been warned of the consequences of its apathy if an unfolding humanitarian crisis is not managed through greater collaboration and synergy of actions.

Amid reports of depleting food and medicine stocks in Afghanistan, Pakistan is the first country to send three planes carrying foodstuff and other direly needed items of use. It also flew a PIA cargo flight to deliver WHO medicines in Mazar-e-Sharif. The country has offered to establish an air corridor to allow the smooth flow of international aid.

Pakistan’s call for global action to help the Afghans is also evidenced by the lessons of history when the world left Afghanistan to fend for itself after the withdrawal of the USSR. This country had to bear a heavy brunt in the form of an influx of three to four million refugees who fled Afghanistan in search of physical security. According to the UNHCR, Pakistan still hosts 1.4 million Afghan refugees in addition to an almost equal number of the same who are not registered.

The travails of the Afghans are real. They have been at the receiving end of a global ‘war on terror' and a civil war over the last four decades. Their lives, livelihoods, and future have been destroyed beyond repair.

The world’s dismissal of and antipathy towards the Taliban should be no reason to ignore the common Afghans who face an uncertain future with a long and harsh winter ahead. The abandonment of the people of Afghanistan, yet again, will lead to the swelling of the ranks of terror outfits such as Al-Qaeda, IS-K, and ETIM, etc.

The regional countries have a special responsibility to explore ways to ameliorate the hardships of the Afghans through the timely provision of aid. They can either work under the UN system or set up their own arrangement to deliver assistance.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy is pivoted around the goal of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. This interest in peace and stability is informed by the consequences of the cold war as well as the US-led ‘war on terror’.

Given Pakistan’s myriad security challenges, it cannot afford to have a running conflict on its western border. More so when the situation on the Indian border remains volatile. The recent peace overtures launched by Islamabad have failed to elicit any kind of reciprocity from India.

Backdoor diplomatic engagement notwithstanding, there is little hope that New Delhi can break the mould to give peace a solid chance. Modi’s politics remains firmly embedded in an anti-Pakistan agenda wherein pursuing peace is considered a weakness.

With Indian-occupied Kashmir bearing the brunt of Modi’s fascism, Pakistan does not have any incentive to engage India more than it has already done. The US has clearly thrown its weight behind New Delhi in what is patently a China-containment policy and is not expected to act as a neutral peace broker for rapprochement between the archrivals.

Given Pakistan’s close and multifaceted cooperation with China, Islamabad is sure to get caught in the crosshairs of this fierce competition. Hence all the more reason for Pakistan to do everything possible to stabilise things on its western border.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy is aware of the challenges on its eastern border and is geared towards protecting the country’s vital economic, political and strategic interests. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the recently concluded foreign minister’s meeting on Afghanistan endorses Pakistan’s position and is an effort at evolving regional consensus.

Email: amanatchpk@gmail.com

Twitter: @Amanat222

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