What happens in Afghanistan will affect Pakistan — this must be the foundational idea of Pakistan’s policy towards this unfortunate country that has gone through three cycles of war, spanning over a period of about 37 years. News coming out of Afghanistan is not good, and it must worry Pakistan. What is all this news? The Taliban groups have established a much stronger foothold than ever before, in some of the northern provinces and have pushed the national security forces off their positions. According to a New York Times report, the casualties of the Afghan police and national army, for the first four months of the year, were as follows: 1,800 dead and 3,400 wounded. The repeated offences of the Taliban and their violence in many parts of the country, including the capital, Kabul, have proved to be very discouraging for the security forces.
The most disturbing news is that the Kabul government is approaching former warlords to re-organise their troops at local bases and defend local districts from the Taliban. This shows two things, firstly, the worsening security situation and in response to that, the desperation of the government. Secondly, the lack of faith in national security forces that the international community has. Finally, calling the warlords back in action against the Taliban will re-ignite the civil war. Never have non-state security actors, like ethnic, religious or regional militias, with the patronage of the state or without it, been a useful tool for national security either in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Bringing the warlords back in, for whatever objectives the Afghan authorities determine or whatever justification they put forward, will be a disaster for the country.
There has been a welcome change in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The change rests on a fundamental shift in Pakistan’s policy from supporting proxies to supporting the government in Afghanistan. The new policy has been in the making for some time, after Pakistan calculated the cost of aggressive defence of its security interests beyond its international border with this country. The character of the force — the Taliban — the countries are fighting is the same. There is no difference between the Taliban creed across the border or either in the rationale. Moreover, any violent means to overthrow any government in the region, no matter what the nature of the grievances is, has no ethical or security justification. Any success of violent groups in Afghanistan would only empower and strengthen similar groups on Pakistan’s side. This is the history of hundreds of years of warfare from the 18th century to modern times.
What should Pakistan do to avert a disaster in Afghanistan which will gravely impact its own security? Firstly, reassure the Afghan president and his sceptical allies that never will Pakistan allow its enemies to use any base or territory on its side against Afghanistan. It was heartening to hear Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declare in Kabul, earlier this month, that “enemies of Afghanistan cannot be friends of Pakistan” which was a clear reference to the Afghan Taliban. Secondly, we need to go beyond assurances, and this is what the Afghan government legitimately demands of us. This is a historic opportunity to turn the course of our relations with Afghanistan and we shouldn’t miss it at all.
We root our primary interests in the stability, peace and unity of Afghanistan. These three words must be the practical guide to our Afghan policy. A policy of unqualified non-intervention by both the countries will help defeat the Taliban and armed ethnic groups.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2015.