Islamabad : Following its exit from Afghanistan, the West wants Islamabad and Kabul to sort out regional security issues without its intervention, insists a leading London-based think tank.
“Pakistan may be seeing itself to be a victim of the West’s changing geopolitical priorities. I think that is because of the Ukraine war. When the focus is on something in the world, the rest has to take a backseat. Now as the western powers have left Afghanistan, they’ve less time, less interest and less money for it compared with the past but that doesn’t mean that the issue has been de-prioritised. There’s tremendous interest in finding stable solutions for Afghanistan but I don’t think that the West is not going to be prominent in finding those solutions to the current Afghan issue, especially due to the growing Russia-Ukraine conflict. They are to be found regionally. Better Pak-Afghan interactions are central to strong regional security,” Desmond Bowen, the leader of an International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) delegation, told ‘The News’ here.
The IISS team is in Pakistan to discuss terrorism, Afghanistan, nuclear capability and other issues of regional security with members of private policy research institutes and government representatives.
Mr Bowen said he didn’t have any sense of the West seeing Pakistan as an asset or liability and thought there were interactions to be held and opportunities to be taken.
“Certainly there is no desire, as we understand at the IISS, to see Pakistan being isolated and not given support. Let’s not forget that the US has given F-16 [fighter aircraft’s] parts to the Pakistan Air Force to make sure it keeps flying,” he said.
When asked about a recent IISS report on Pakistan's nuclear issues, the think tank’s representative said the document was about the ‘state strategic stability' in South Asia with the worrying conclusion that there were risks of Indo-Pak confrontation.
He said the report, which also highlighted the growing capabilities of Pakistan regarding short-range weapons, suggested ways and means, especially confidence-building measures, to increase regional stability.
Mr Bowen praised Pakistan for making a ‘very deliberate effort to keep the Line of Control ceasefire in being and make sure there’s no trouble’ and said the step had benefited the overall regional situation.
He said though a ceasefire didn’t resolve conflicts, it prevented the upsurge of violence and incidents like the 2019 militant attack in India’s Palwama area and the Indian Air Force’s strikes in Pakistan’s Balakot area.
“I might just say something about the events in Palwama and Balakot because it is important to understand the existing crisis management arrangements and their effectiveness from the point of view of both Pakistan and India. Clearly, this [tensions] was dangerous and could have escalated further but both countries exercised some restraint,” he said.
The IISS member said if there were miscalculations, it was difficult not only to constrain the response of the military forces but also the demands of the government and the populace, who might feel outraged.
“This has been working for some time and it needs to be worked on again. Right now, there has been no contact that is something that will have to change at some stage,” he said.
Besides security issues, the IISS team also discussed climate change with Pakistanis.
“There’re a few new things to discuss and climate change is one of them. Pakistan is clearly suffering from dreadful floods at the moment. These are not the first floods. Each event has an effect on agriculture. A whole new domain of human security is of interest to us. This region is affected most in the world as a result of climate change,” he said.
Mr Bowen said discussions were also held about the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on South Asia. “Clearly the Ukraine war is affecting this region. There is a food security issue as we know Ukrainian exports have not been happening. There is a political effect of the war, there is much attention paid by just not the western governments, but Japan, Australia and Korea, which have a desire to support Ukraine. That reduces the amount of time, effort and energy that can be devoted to, for example, South Asia. I think that is important to understand that there are also implications of what the conflict brings in terms of worry about the misuse of security and the respect for rule of law and for the United States charter,” he said.
Besides the local think tank members, the IISS team met the relevant government officials as well but Mr Bowen won’t reveal details of those interactions.
“We’re here to interact with our counterpart think tanks. In some meetings, there have been officials usually to listen and less to interact directly. There have also been some official engagements and I am not in a position to disclose or discuss anything that we had discussed with the officials. We certainly do not want to undermine or undo the confidentiality of private conversations with officials,” he said.
Usually, the IISI sends its members to Pakistan every year to discuss the issues of regional security but no team visited the country in the last five years.
Mr Bowen blamed it on the coronavirus pandemic-induced restrictions.
“There is no reason other than Covid-19 curbs, which kept us apart. Our main interlocutor here, Centre for International Strategic Studies, actually came to London in 2020, so it has not been a gap of five years as such, but having said that, I must say we stayed in contact through Zoom and other mediums amid a strong desire to come face to face with think tank members here in Pakistan,” he said.
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