There has never been a dull moment in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations during the past seven decades. Not only bilaterally but since its independence, Pakistan had to grapple with many external pressures from the erstwhile Soviet Union, India and the United States.
At the bilateral level, it started with a negative note from Afghanistan which opposed Pakistan's admission to the United Nations. India has always been part of any campaign that shows Pakistan in a bad light in Afghanistan.
Successive Afghan governments have looked at Pakistan with suspicion or created issues that had no locus. Instead of blaming their rulers who hobnobbed with the British, blaming Pakistan – a successor state – for problems such as the Durand Line only reflected the mindset deeply ingrained in the institutional memory of Afghan officialdom right from Zahir Shah to the Taliban.
Specifically, during the past twenty years, Afghan rulers, with the support of Indian officials and media, blamed Pakistan for supporting the Taliban but failed to provide good governance. These Afghan rulers failed to create a conducive environment for the Taliban to be part of the political dispensation when the Taliban were ready to sign surrender documents. The Americans not only rejected the Taliban's reconciliatory gestures but also missed the golden opportunity of creating an inclusive democratic order in a conservative country. How history repeats itself was manifested in the American demand of an ‘inclusive’ government once the Taliban entered Kabul.
What happened on August 15 contradicts all claims of Afghan officials about Pakistan, for the Taliban entered Kabul without firing a single shot. This not only vindicated the credentials of the Taliban as a formidable force but also proved without a doubt that they enjoyed the support of the people, a sine qua non for a successful guerrilla movement. However, Mr Karzai and Mr Ashraf Ghani, who became the face of Afghan democracy, blamed Pakistan for the Taliban's resurgence – all the while failing to deliver good governance. Their rent-seeking approach may have benefitted them or their close allies but could not establish a durable democratic order without outside support.
For political expediency, American officials also started blaming Pakistan for its complicity with the Taliban. It is incredible that the Americans, with all the wealth and wherewithal, could not achieve a ‘cakewalk’ for Pakistan by supporting a rag-tag militia. Instead of looking at their own follies or shortcomings, the energy used to bash Pakistan proved ineffectual as with each passing day the Taliban gained strength and territory. The American narrative did not have very many takers.
Similarly, during the past two decades, Indian print and electronic media had a field day in Afghanistan in building an anti-Pakistan narrative. Indian media launched a blitzkrieg against Pakistan as soon as the American withdrawal of troops began. So much so that retired generals came up with ‘incontrovertible’ proof of Pakistan's involvement in capturing Panjshir province by using a photo from a Pakistan military-themed film showing Pakistani soldiers martyred in the Panjshir valley. No less than a retired major general of the Indian army made himself the butt of jokes by claiming such fake information.
This is not a stand-alone case of misinformation. A few months ago, an Indian disinformation lab discovered by European investigative journalists exposed India’s machinations to defame Pakistan by using fake accounts in over one hundred countries. However, this time the Indians had it worse, much to their embarrassment.
Therefore, it was not surprising that after the fall of Panjshir and being poisoned by Indian propaganda, there were anti-Pakistan demonstrations in the streets of Kabul and some European capitals. However, beneath these demonstrations, one could see attempts to test the Taliban's patience threshold for such protests in the future. Similarly, ISI Chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed's Kabul visit became another propaganda ploy in the hands of Pakistan bashers. The crudity of the propaganda was so blatant that an open visit was portrayed as breaking news of Watergate proportions.
There is a visible divide between the Indian propaganda machinery and the intellectual community, which clearly sees future events. While the Indian deep state wastes no opportunity to malign Pakistan even if it is false and crude, objective Indian commentators are critical of the Indian isolation in the ongoing diplomatic efforts to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan through regional cooperation. Singling out Pakistan as a villain has not helped to turn the situation to India's advantage. Instead, the turn of events in Afghanistan has created an environment favourable to Pakistan to become part of the emerging regional understanding manifested in a consensus amongst the immediate neighbours on Afghanistan.
India is undoubtedly not part of the emerging consensus. If India continues with its intransigence and opts for confrontation in the region as part of an American-led military alliance in the Indo-Pacific or QUAD, it will be in for a long-term confrontation. Apart from losing its importance in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), India will grapple with a two-front situation with China and Pakistan. This scenario may plunge the entire region into a security mess.
The events in Afghanistan serve as a lesson to all stakeholders, whether internal or external. Afghanistan is a quagmire if external actors want to dictate their agenda but can turn into a walk in the park if they respect the neutrality of the place. Therefore, maintaining the neutral status of Afghanistan is a must and a win-win for all.
The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan to Iran and UAE. He currently works as senior research fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).
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