War on terror being fought in Afghanistan since last eleven years has experienced many complexities and the country that has suffered the most, other than Afghanistan, is Pakistan. In the wake of the likely withdrawal of the US and NATO forces by the end of 2014, uncertainty prevails regarding emerging situation in Afghanistan and its impact on neighbouring countries. In this context the regional countries, particularly immediate neighbours of Afghanistan are worried about likely spillover effects if the security situation inside Afghanistan worsens. Under difficult political and security scenarios likely to emerge in Afghanistan, out of all countries having common borders with Afghanistan, again Pakistan will be most affected country in many ways. This article focuses on the post 2014 regional politics likely to unfold in and around Afghanistan and how Pakistan should respond to guard its national interest.
Although India is a distant neighbor but it is endeavouring to attain a major role in post withdrawal Afghanistan. India’s politics in this regard is aimed at advancing its regional economic and politico-military interests. These interests include securing its long term investments in Afghanistan and further enhancing its politico-military influence there on long term basis with a view to using Afghanistan’s soil to destabilize Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan and creating long lasting hostility between Afghanistan and Pakistan. By doing so India wants to achieve five objectives. First, it wants to pressurize Pakistan to compromise on Kashmir issue. Second, to support terrorist acts in Pakistan in such a manner that major world powers start believing that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are becoming unsafe. Thirdly, keeping Pakistan economically weak since continuing terrorism will discourage foreign investment and economic activity. Fourthly, to tarnish Pakistan’s international image by constantly blaming it for being an epicenter of world terrorism. Fifthly, to commit Pakistan’s security forces on its western borders on long term basis and engineer long lasting hostility between Afghanistan and Pakistan to create a two front war scenario for Pakistan. In this context the major objective being pursued by India is to undermine Pakistan’s credibility as a nuclear power. India’s pursuit of this policy is quite evident from the latest statement of Indian Prime Minister, Monmohan Singh, made before the UN General Assembly in September 2013, that Pakistan was epicenter of terrorism. By repeatedly calling Pakistan as an epicenter of terrorism India wants to discredit Pakistan to re-establish its hegemony in South Asia which it feels has been severely dented by Pakistan becoming a nuclear power.
To neutralize this overambitious policy of India it is necessary that Pakistan’s leadership remains mindful of India’s Pakistan specific strategy and takes all necessary measures such as ending home grown terrorism through dialogue and formulating a long term comprehensive anti terrorism policy under which country’s security forces and strict legal system could effectively counter the acts of those terrorist groups which are being sponsored by India and some other like minded foreign powers and are likely to shun and disturb ongoing dialogue process initiated by the government of Pakistan. A well structured anti terrorism policy is also required to keep terrorism under effective control and give confidence to domestic and foreign investors so that Pakistan’s economy can flourish.
To counter India’s above stated negative policies it is also necessary that Pakistan makes efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan based on reconciliation between all ethnic groups. For this purpose while Pakistan needs to coordinate its efforts with other Muslim countries in the region such as Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, it should also hold dialogue with China, Russia and Central Asian Republics (CARS). In this context Pakistan Prime Minister’s recent participation in a trilateral dialogue held in Turkey with Afghanistan President and Turkish leadership is encouraging. While having dialogue with China it is necessary to keep in focus that China wants peace in Afghanistan to secure its investments there and to discourage any cross border support to terrorist activities in its Xinjiang province. Russia and CARs will be interested in controlling Afghanistan related cross border terrorist activities and drug trafficking.
It is also important for Pakistan to have a close coordination with Iran on Afghan peace process, otherwise in case major differences emerge between Iran and Pakistan over Afghanistan than India is likely to exploit the situation to its advantage. India has already started investing in development of Chahbahar sea port of Iran to use it as a transit port for its trade with Afghanistan and CARs as an alternate root if Pakistan does not agree for granting transit trade facility to India. In this context India, Afghanistan and Iran are also closer to signing a transit trade agreement. Being a very close friend, Pakistan should also work with Saudi Arabia since it can greatly help in achieving a peace agreement in Afghanistan. Of course no peace effort in Afghanistan will succeed without consistent cooperation and support of the US and major NATO countries. Pakistan may even consider having a joint discussion with India and Iran on the possibility of three countries pursuing their interests in Afghanistan rationally with mutual consultations. In view of its future trade of goods and energy with Afghanistan and CARs through Pakistan, India should also consider improving its relations with Pakistan on permanent basis by resolving Kashmir dispute according to the wishes of Kashmiri people. In this regard Pakistan’s recent efforts to resume composite dialogue with India may be considered a good opportunity by that country. To meet its future trade and energy import needs from Afghanistan and CARs this bargain seems to be much better for India rather than continuing enmity with Pakistan and opting for 1800 Kilometers long and expensive trade route with two legs, one from Mumbay to Chahbahar, Iran through deep sea and second leg as a land route from Chahbahar to Afghanistan, instead of preferring a much shorter and cheaper route of only 600 Kilometers length from Wagha, Lahore to Afghanistan.
Considering that it will be the most affected country out of any adverse situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan should be very concerned about an early initiation of a dialogue process involving all ethnic groups in Afghanistan and its ultimate success. While Pakistan should contribute maximum to bring an early peace in Afghanistan it should also prepare for the worse by marginalizing home grown terrorism and putting in place a well thought out anti- terrorism policy and border control arrangement to deal with cross border foreign supported cross border terrorism and likely influx of refugees from Afghanistan.