This week the British Ambassador to Afghanistan, Dominic Jermey, traveled to Islamabad especially to try and lessen the vocal tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He met with the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz and National Security Adviser, Lt Gen (retd) Naseer Khan Janjua. Maybe he should have also met with the Indian NSA, Ajit Doval and asked the Indians to work with the other two countries to reduce tensions in the region.
Changing geo-political scene
The year 2016 proved decisive in bringing geo-political changes at regional and international levels. Russian involvement in Syria has accorded it a position which hitherto had been lost. The United States removal of sanctions on Iran helped it to move towards normalizing ties with Iran. It also engaged in an increasingly assertive rebalancing strategy to contain China whilst its differences with Pakistan continued, who has started to find an unlikely ally is the form of the Russians.
In December 2016, the friendly meeting of the troika; Russia, China, and Pakistan is indicating a new turn to geo-politics in Asia Pacific, especially in the Indian Ocean Region. With rising influence of India in Afghanistan, the blame-game against Pakistan by Afghanistan has reached a peak. Whether, it was the SAARC meetings or the Heart of Asia conference, Kabul is continuously blaming Islamabad for each and every incident that happens in Afghanistan. The latest anecdotal story emanating from the country is that Pakistan is deliberately selling outdated milk in Afghanistan.
The last year has seen every state in the Asian Pacific region reviewing its foreign policy, but there seem significant changes except when it comes to Pakistan. Pakistan’s strategic depth policy towards Afghanistan is continuing but to no avail.
Changing and growingly assertive Afghanistan
Pakistan’s strategic depth policy towards Afghanistan is continuing but to no avail.
Taliban are again gaining power in many provinces of Afghanistan, and are close to controlling one-third of Afghanistan. But Pakistan currently has no role in the country. Its relationship with both the Taliban and the Afghan government is under pressure. The Taliban blame Pakistan for giving Americans the coordinates for Mullah Mansour and hence being responsible for his death.
After the peace deal between Afghan Government and Hezb-e-Islami led by Gulbudeen Hikmatyar, the political scenario of Afghanistan has evolved. India, with the help of Iran, will continue to give even more attention to Northern Afghanistan to insure that its national interest are protected and that it ultimately is able to access Central Asia and Europe in the future.
Containment of a hostile India and creating a pro-Pakistan Afghan state have been two strategic elements of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Rising Indian influence in Afghanistan is the crystal-clear outcome of intensified hostile relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Reviewing its strategic policy in respect of Afghanistan is necessary for Pakistan. The more India supports Afghanistan, the more Pakistan will face negative consequences in the future. It needs to review its policies which further down the line will also start impacting its own political and economic stability.
It is not clear that Pakistan is cognizant of this changing environment in the region. Is it relaxing using its anti-state actor’s policies, towards its neighbors, especially Afghanistan, there is no evidence and signs of normal direction. The killing of Mullah Mansoor in Pakistan, President Ghani’s statements during BRICS and SAARC summit and tensions with India represent the frenzied and tense relations with two of its immediate neighbors.
Pakistan: the Garrison State no more
Containment of a hostile India and creating a pro-Pakistan Afghan state have been two strategic elements of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
While, Pakistan faces a powerful historical hostile neighbor, India, it would be a big political mistake if Pakistan also loses its influence and good relations with its immediate Muslim neighboring country, Afghanistan. Unfriendly relations and ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan will only allow Indian importance to grow in Afghanistan. The Pakistani state needs to reconsider its policies towards Afghanistan in order to ensure peaceful cooperation and understanding between the two countries.
In his book “Pakistan-The Garrison State” Ishtiaq Ahmed has explained Pakistan’s reactionary strategic culture in relation to Afghanistan and India. The crux being that it was a reaction to Indian intelligence agency and Afghan’s NDS which are both fully involved in making conspiracies and blame-game policies against Pakistan and have done so historically. This includes Prime Minister Daud’s actions in fomenting tensions in Pakistan’s Pashtun areas, and RAW for creating tensions in East Pakistan. Pakistan was in immediate need to secure national security. In this way, the situation has led down a road of controversies and declining-ties.
Pakistan’s immediate help to Afghanistan to end blame-game
India is actively investing its political and financial capital to re-construct Afghanistan’s energy, education, security and trade sectors mostly in Northern Afghanistan and to safe-guard the functionality of Chabahar.
It is also encouraging blame-game by Afghanistan as well as itself to alienate Pakistan both at diplomatic and international levels. For Pakistan it needs to improve relations with Afghanistan to help stabilize itself at regional level as well as containing anti-Pakistan elements in South Asia. An active foreign and strategic policy of soft power would be the more wise and viable option for Pakistan along with the appointment of a foreign minister.
To end this ugly policy of pro-India proxies, Pakistan must support Pashtun majority provinces of Afghanistan in all sectors of life in order to create a favorable environment for Pakistan. Pashtun ethnicity is the only hope that can stabilize Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan. The reason is simple; almost all Pashtuns have one or other relation with Pakistan. Either it is blood relation, economic interest, Pashtun-wali or linguistic loyalty both across the borders. Pakistan, like India, must announce favorable packages for Afghans in general and Pashtuns in special in order to establish friendly environment.
Pakistan is a regional nuclear power
The strength of the country includes its nuclear abilities, strong military, economic growth, political democracy and its youth dividend. To stabilize its future concerns in Asia, including keeping check on Indian hegemonic desires, Pakistan must engage in cooperative and constructive relations with Afghanistan.
Pakistan must focus on Afghan people that can build a positive image of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Afghan people can play important and decisive role more than Afghan government in building Pakistan’s positive image in Afghanistan. Stability of Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan will stabilize Pakistan’s regional importance and role in IOR.
To end this ugly policy of pro-India proxies, Pakistan must support Pashtun majority provinces of Afghanistan in all sectors of life in order to create a favorable environment for Pakistan.
The troika meeting; Russia, China and Pakistan, Chinese initiation of One Belt One Road, CPEC and functionality of Gwadar Port represent Pakistan’s rising importance and significance in Asia Pacific.
Chinese investment in CPEC allows it to get through Pakistan the shortest access to Indian sea, to strengthen its navel navigation and economy. Normal and friendly policy of Pakistan in respect of Afghanistan will secure China and Pakistan for Gwadar and from any possible strategic counter-attack from Indian side. Counter-strategic policy will surely sabotage Pakistan’s interest strategically as well as economically.
Afghanistan is at crossroad of Asia, it is only Pakistan that can cement Afghanistan for future developments. Afghanistan, poetically imagined as the heart of Asia, can play vital role for prosperous Pakistan. Bleeding Afghanistan is neither in favor of Pakistan nor for whole region. The future of Afghanistan cannot be decided in Islamabad, Delhi, Washington or Moscow but by Kabul in Afghanistan, but Islamabad’s friendly dialogue policy is the focal point for peaceful future of Pakistan as well as Afghanistan that must be practiced.
Abdul Rahim is currently pursuing M. Phil degree with a focus on Talibanization and Imperialist Designs in 21st Century at International Islamic University, Islamabad. He tweets at Rahim_realist and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.