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Pakistan’s Afghan Challenge

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Pakistan’s Afghan Challenge

Amidst the severe liquidity crisis, the entire governance structure is on the verge of crumbling. Almost half the Afghan population is food-insecure with hundreds of thousands internally displaced. As the deplorable situation takes an ugly turn in Afghanistan, the world has the audacity to feign ignorance, showing fatigue and lack of interest, especially of the kind warranted by the dire circumstances.
With this sorry state of affairs in view, it is now left to Pakistan to make a case for global engagement with Afghanistan. Pakistan’s efforts are geared towards reminding the international community of its responsibility towards the Afghan people. Islamabad has impressed upon the key capitals the need for adopting fresh perspectives on Afghanistan.
The major talking points being emphasized by Pakistan are related to the usefulness of peace in Afghanistan being critical to securing borders, eliminating the threat of terrorism, creating conditions for the dignified return of the Afghan refugees, ensuring economic stability, improving the living standards of the people and strengthening regional development and connectivity.
Pakistan hosted the first Ministerial meeting of the regional countries to craft a consensus on the way forward. Likewise, our intelligence chief has been in touch with his counterparts from the friendly countries with stakes in Afghanistan and led discussions on the fluid security situation. These initiatives are important in the sense that they underline the need for multilateral engagement to help stabilize Afghanistan. At the same time, the Pakistani leadership has made it clear to the world that the failure to act will not just be catastrophic but a return of the 1990s following the withdrawal of the USSR.
With the installation of an interim Taliban cabinet, the process of government formation has marked a step forward in pursuit of returning Afghanistan to some semblance of normalcy. Mainly consisting of the old guard Taliban leaders many of whom have been on the UN terror list, on the face of it, the new Afghan cabinet inspires little confidence.
Those who pinned their hopes on the ‘reformed’ Taliban to have learned their lessons and walked the talk are a bit dismayed at the composition of the new government. It is mainly Taliban-dominated and does not have an inclusive and broad-based representation from other political, tribal and ethnic groups, as well as women.
he fact that the newly announced set-up is interim in nature that has been put together to deliver essential governance and stop chaos from persisting still inspires hope in the final governance model being more representative and inclusive.
As the world prepares itself to come to terms with the post-America, Taliban-led Afghanistan, a much-detested scenario not long ago, Pakistan stays engaged with the new rulers in Kabul to facilitate the evacuation of thousands of foreigners including journalists. Pakistan’s embassy remains the busiest foreign mission, frequented by those looking to avoid uncertainty and insecurity in a war-torn country.
The events of the past few months have placed Pakistan’s Afghan policy at the heart of global discourse. The beeline of the foreign ministers and other key officials visiting Islamabad to hold talks with the Pakistani authorities in the wake of the changed Afghan landscape represents the recognition of Pakistan’s central role as a stabilizing force in the region. At a broader level, it also acknowledges the efficacy of Pakistan’s consistent position on the Afghan imbroglio.
Without Pakistan’s effective role, the Doha peace agreement would neither have been concluded that created conditions for the United States to end its 20-year-old combat mission nor evacuation would have taken place at such a massive level after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.
Consumed by rage after 9/11, as the United States prepared for an attack on Afghanistan for housing Osama bin Laden, Pakistan advised restraint and impressed upon Washington the need to find ways to hunt down Al-Qaeda that was considered responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Inherent in this sensible advice was a recommendation to the US to politically engage the Taliban as a legitimate stakeholder.
Had the Bush Administration heeded to this piece of advice back then, the US would not have had to cut and run from Afghanistan today and fought the longest war in its history at such a high cost to its global prestige.
Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy has been informed by an experience of the past forty years as well as the hard realities of a country that is globally known as the ‘graveyard of empires. From PM Imran Khan to FM Qureshi to Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry, the Pakistani leaders have been emphatic in highlighting the need for a political solution to the Afghan conflict.
At the heart of this policy has been a consensus between the Pakistani civil and military leadership that a military solution will fail to bring about lasting peace in Afghanistan and will invariably be followed by more bloodshed, strife and protracted fighting.
In addition to helping the US-Taliban negotiations become successful, Pakistan worked with friends and allies as part of various regional peace initiatives to allow for a peaceful and rules-based transfer of power, duly agreed to by the Afghan parties.
Be it Extended Troika consisting of the US, China, Russia, and Pakistan, or Russia- and China-led dialogue process or any other peace endeavour, Pakistan has been at the forefront of these disparate peace efforts. Despite Ghani administration’s often scathing criticism aimed at holding Islamabad responsible for its own failures, Pakistan did not shy away from working with Kabul to provide a push to an intra-Afghan peace and reconciliation process.
In the event of the Taliban’s takeover, Pakistan has joined the international community in calling for an inclusive government in Afghanistan, knowing well the consequences of failure on this count as the foremost neighbouring country.
As a responsible member of the international community, Islamabad has also impressed upon the rulers in Kabul the need for stopping the Afghan soil from being used for terrorism against the regional countries.
The reference here is to the renewed threat posed by the TTP-led terror syndicate to peace and stability in Pakistan. Scores of terrorist incidents in recent months have witnessed an uptick in violence, and these attacks have clear TTP signatures around them.
Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy has also sought to advocate global engagement by highlighting the interests of the Afghan people. The international community has rightly been warned of the consequences of its apathy if an unfolding humanitarian crisis is not managed through greater collaboration and synergy of actions.
Amid reports of depleting food and medicine stocks in Afghanistan, Pakistan is the first country to send three planes carrying foodstuff and other direly-needed items of use. It also flew a PIA cargo flight to deliver WHO medicines in Mazar-e-Sharif. The country has offered to establish an air corridor to allow the smooth flow of international aid.
Pakistan’s call for global action to help the Afghans is also evidenced by the lessons of history when the world left Afghanistan to fend for itself after the withdrawal of the USSR. This country had to bear a heavy brunt in the form of an influx of three to four million refugees who fled Afghanistan in search of physical security. According to the UNHCR, Pakistan still hosts 1.4 million Afghan refugees in addition to an almost equal number of the same who are not registered.
The travails of the Afghans are real. They have been at the receiving end of whether it is a civil war or a global ‘war on terror’ over the last four decades. Their lives, livelihoods and future have been destroyed beyond repair.
The world’s dismissal of and antipathy towards the Taliban should be no reason to hold back and ignore the common Afghans who face an uncertain future with a long and harsh winter ahead. The abandonment of the people of Afghanistan, yet again, will lead to the swelling of the ranks of terror outfits such as Al-Qaeda, IS-K, ETIM, etc.
The regional countries have a special responsibility to explore ways and means to alleviate the hardships of the Afghans through timely provision of aid. They can either work under the UN system or set up their own arrangement to deliver assistance.
Pakistan’s Afghan policy is pivoted around the goal of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. This interest in peace and stability is informed by the consequences of the Cold War as well as the US-led war on terror.
Given Pakistan’s myriad security challenges, it does not afford to have a running conflict on its western border. More so is the case when the situation on the Indian border remains volatile. The recent peace overtures launched by Islamabad have failed to elicit any kind of reciprocity from India.
Backdoor diplomatic engagement notwithstanding, there is little hope that New Delhi can break the mould to give peace a solid chance. Modi’s politics remains firmly embedded in an anti-Pakistan agenda wherein pursuing peace is considered a weakness.
With the Indian-held Kashmir bearing the brunt of Modi’s fascism, Pakistan does not have any incentive to engage India more than it has already done. The US has clearly thrown its weight behind New Delhi in what is patently a China-containment policy and is not expected to act as a neutral peace broker for rapprochement between the archrivals.
Given Pakistan’s close and multifaceted cooperation with China, Islamabad is sure to get caught in the crosshairs of this fierce competition. Hence all the more reason for Pakistan to do everything possible to stabilize things on its western border.
Pakistan’s Afghan policy is aware of the challenges on its eastern border and is geared towards protecting the country’s vital economic, political and strategic interests. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the recently concluded Foreign Minister’s meeting on Afghanistan endorses Pakistan’s position and is an effort at evolving regional consensus.
The world’s response to the deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is not up to the challenge. The donors’ conference arranged by the UN Secretary-General in Geneva did succeed in getting commitments to the tune of $1.1 billion. However, the needs are multifaceted and growing. This amount will not be enough beyond protecting the civic infrastructure from collapsing for the time being.
The international community needs to think hard about finding ways and means to provide a financial cushion to the Afghan government. The key step in this regard is to unfreeze the assets of the Afghan people. This will be a solid confidence-building step. There is a lot of merit in Pakistan’s contention regarding Afghanistan. It is high time the world listened to it to avoid the repeat of past mistakes.

The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex and is a regular contributor to The News
Email:, Twitter: @Amanat222

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