Dr Ashraf Ghani’s meaningful contacts with the Pakistani leadership are proof of his trust in Pakistan’s constructive role in defeating terrorism
Historically, Afghanistan has been the land of warriors. Afghans have unrelenting experience of fighting wars and defeating invaders despite the constant dynamic of internal fragmentation. This resilience of living free of external manacles is above board. Afghans pushed the Soviet Union across the Oxus River with ignominy and, for now, they are at a juncture where the US-led coalition of dozens of countries, equipped with state-of-the-art war technology, is pondering upon the zero sum game they have played in Afghanistan for 13 long years. This war’s bill, amounting to trillions of dollars, is now haunting US taxpayers.
Despite decades long wrangling, bickering and arm-twisting, Afghanistan has sustained its rightful freedom. Global players have termed the war in Afghanistan a Counter Insurgency Operation (COIN) but that campaign, necessitated by the idealistic policy goals of the US, failed to deliver decisively, leaving behind gigantic challenges for Pakistan in particular. This COIN phenomenon consequently spawned terrorism/extremism and accelerated the spillover of violence into the tribal areas of Pakistan and well beyond. Pakistan, alongside Afghanistan, has suffered most during the post-Soviet withdrawal and contemporary US/NATO campaigns but was able to continue realistic relations with its brotherly neighbour because Pakistan cannot afford double jeopardy in the presence of a traditional adversary on the eastern border.
In effect Pakistan’s Afghan policy in particular is a matter of reproach for many; one of them is Dr Mohammad Taqi. Pakistan’s regional policy is purely driven by ground realities; in line with the international norms of diplomacy, Pakistan has historically acknowledged those stakeholders and legitimate rulers who control the capital, Kabul, while warlordism remains an integral and perpetual phenomenon. The Taliban rule during the early 1990s is just a single example that is typically criticised. For historical reasons, Pakistan cannot afford blinking about its eastern border while the western border with two neighbours has remained non-violent across history. Whatever policy was adopted either during the Soviet occupation or contemporary coalition blitz, it is largely to safeguard the sanctity of Afghanistan’s territorial integrity and to support peace processes for the benefit of the people in both countries.
Since Afghanistan provides Pakistan the most convenient land bridge with the Central Asian Republics, which in turn desperately need access to the sea through Afghanistan and Pakistan, a peaceful Afghanistan has always remained a priority for Pakistan. Peace is essential for the economic integration of the region and for the development of the two countries, and therefore Pakistan has been making substantial efforts to support and facilitate even the US, UK and EU initiated peace initiatives in Afghanistan. Western countries have been counting on Pakistan to use its natural influence to provide them some face saving, especially in crucial negotiations with the Taliban. However, in view of the failure of the global powers and manoeuvrings of regional players, including India, there still remain misgivings, as reflected by Dr Mohammad Taqi in one of his recently published articles, ‘Words, words, mere words’ (Daily Times, March 5, 2015) regarding the beaten up fallacy of strategic depth, which is conveniently interpreted as Pakistan’s desire to have a puppet regime in Kabul. This overplayed impression has time and again been disabused at the highest civil and military leadership level through pronouncements and practical steps, like Operation Zarb-e-Azb fostered with the National Action Plan, underlining that Pakistan’s top priority has been and will be a peaceful, stable and internally cohesive Afghanistan. Dr Ashraf Ghani’s meaningful contacts with the Pakistani leadership are proof of his trust in Pakistan’s constructive role in defeating terrorism to enable both countries to progress despite the criticism of frustrated challengers.
Pakistan has been supporting the global powers for the Afghan reconciliation process in the past too. Pakistan’s key role in the Bonn Conference, apex level Chequers meeting in the UK and a similar top-level conference in France in addition to the Qatar meetings of the US with all other Afghan stakeholders are a few examples that are acknowledged. The recent trilateral peace process between Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, critically differing from Indian ambitions of dominating Afghanistan, is an indication of Pakistan’s seriousness towards achieving peace in the region. Both neighbouring countries are tenaciously united in rooting out militants that have inimitably flourished during the last 13 years. In such a scenario, stirring apprehensions and tirades against the security structure of Pakistan, as illustrated by Dr Taqi, are not likely to help mitigate the impending challenges; rather, such discourse will become a catalyst to further obscure the region’s important issues. This was perhaps not the purpose behind Dr Taqi’s column. Being a well-read person, he understands that in reality, the global players have failed to stabilise Afghanistan while once again leaving a substantial vacuum behind. The ensuing state of affairs necessitates the coordination of Pakistan’s efforts with China for rebuilding Afghanistan since China’s foreign policies revolve around the principles of peaceful co-existence rather than coercive posturing.
I do not think it is helpful to criticise Pakistan’s Afghan policy at a juncture where the endgame can cost heavily with the potential of plunging Afghanistan once again towards warlordism and internal chaos with a massive spillover of violence into Pakistan. Analysts like Dr Mohammad Taqi disregard the extraordinary role of Pakistan, which has facilitated the US, UK and EU initiated reconciliation and peace processes at a substantial cost. Dr Taqi was expected to mention the orchestration of anti-Pakistan rhetoric and the blame game by President Karzai who had his own agenda focused on his re-election. President Karzai had often been projecting his engagement with some important Taliban interlocutors from the Haqqani group and Shura. While narrating immense loopholes in the Afghan policy of Pakistan, the learned writer also ignores the CIA’s more than 400 covert drone operations inside Pakistani territory, which resulted in the killings of at least 884 civilians.
While analysing policy matters, one must not ignore facts like the sacrifices of common Pakistanis and thousands of armed forces personnel who were targeted by terrorists. The latest Army Public School (APS) incident is an eye-opener. Pakistan’s armed forces have almost wiped out terrorists in the tribal region, including North Waziristan, as a result of Operation Zarb-e-Azb initiated in 2014. I do not think it is helpful to continue bashing Pakistan on account of its Afghan policy. Intellectuals instead should offer doable and practical solutions to impending challenges.