Historically Pakistan attaches great importance to its relations with Afghanistan despite of the fact that for over past three decades, Afghanistan has been marred with internal and external conflicts and Pakistan got affected somehow or the other. At present, there are number of grey areas, i.e., cross border infiltration, refugees, drug trafficking, entry of Afghan Taliban into Pakistan’s Tribal belt, trust deficit between the two countries over counter terrorism policy and over dialogue with the terrorists network and Durand line issue that have eroded the relations between the two. But again the post-2014 US exit presents opportunities and challenges for Pak-Afghan relations. For Pakistan, Afghanistan issue is a day-to-day issue, in fact a contiguous issue, which deals with Afghanistan and the future of the region. The strategic community is keen to know and discuss the post-2014 scenario of Afghanistan. The strategic gap created by Soviet pull back and the post-2014 scenario could be seen from both positive and negative perspectives. To be very blunt, the rosy scenario in Afghanistan could be a consensus government comprising all ethnic groups in the wake of recent Afghan elections. The negative scenarios after 2014 might be the fragmentation of Afghanistan that too along ethnic lines, i.e., neo-Balkanization, civil war and rising hostilities with neighboring countries, especially Pakistan.
Cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan is needed to rid Afghanistan from terrorism, radicalism and violence since Pakistan and Afghanistan have many things in common – religion, culture, ethnicity, and history. But despite many similarities both had experienced a troubled relationship that often resulted in exchanging accusations. Kabul alleges Islamabad and Pakistan holds Afghanistan responsible for sheltering Baloch separatists and Taliban. The main issue behind accusations by Afghanistan is the Durand Line issue. Some Indian writers, who believed and rather propagated that the Durand Line agreement was just for 100 years and had expired in November 1993 but the fact is Indian writers are misleading the world as the agreement is a settled issue by every means. It was Pakistan (British India) which gave lot of concessions to Afghanistan on Durand Line issue. Even many people in Pakistan lacked knowledge of history including scholars and some TV anchors who were talking about the expiry of Durand agreement.
We are living in a transitional period. The US and the western powers remained the major players in Afghanistan since 2001. Pakistan had no influence on Afghan policies being drawn by those powers. But there are three cardinal principles for friendly Afghanistan, i.e., (i) Pakistan needs to build stable and friendly relations with Afghanistan because Pakistan cannot afford to have yet another hostile regime in its neighborhood, (ii) an inclusive government in Kabul with adequate Pushtun representation recognized by all stake holders. The biggest mistake that the international community made to exclude the Pushtun as the government that would deliver will be one that is acceptable to all the Afghan segments, and (iii) limited Indian involvement, that is to give Pakistan its due role in Afghan issue instead of undermining it. Pakistan’s role is critical in any Afghan solution as ignoring Pakistan had been the biggest mistake by the West during all these years. Pakistan’s access to Central Asia would remain blocked as long as there was turmoil in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to have friendly relations with Afghanistan to exploit the trade opportunities that opening of Central Asian Republics (CARs) will offer. Pakistan should try to get consensus of regional and other international powers with regard to the principle of broad based sharing of all ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
There are four possible future scenarios after 2014 in Afghanistan, i.e., (i) maintenance of Status-quo, which would limit the military involvement by the West so the system survives, (ii) it is likely that the Taliban would win, the Afghan National Army (ANA) crumbles and would result in frequent attacks on foreign force (iii) a “New Deal”, it would invite participation from all the tribes from Afghanistan. It would arrive at a new consensus, based on one Afghanistan including Taliban or Pashtuns (iv) probably a civil war in Afghanistan, it would be exactly the same as after the former Soviets left Afghanistan in 1988. With each scenario, Pakistan’s engagement with Afghanistan would have different connotations.
In order to maintain the partnership with Afghanistan at political, social and economic level, there should be continuity in Afghan regime. If there is reconciliation among different groups, that would be the most suitable scenario for Pakistan. Sensitivities of Afghan people must not be overlooked.
Afghan economy is dependent upon foreign aid. There can be economic crisis if Afghan government does not come up to the expectations of international community and aid is cut off. Pakistan can support Afghanistan by sharing the responsibility through multilateral mechanism. Pakistan, Afghanistan and China can participate in several development projects to strengthen the Afghan economy. As far as social sector is concerned, Pakistan should come forward by providing assistance in education. More than 6000 Afghan students are already studying in Pakistani Universities which is a good development. There should be emphasis on making a friendly Afghanistan and not a friendly government there. Let the Afghans decide their future and reach the solution and we should rather support and facilitate them.
Pakistan Observer July 27, 2014.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer, and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.