India’s interests in Afghanistan are definitely going to have security implications on Pakistan. After the withdrawal, India will increase her role in Afghanistan, and if it goes unrestricted, Pakistan will definitely have apprehensions that will affect peace in the region.
Present Situation, Assumptions and the Role of Pakistan Beyond 2014
It is for sure that after the US withdrawal, the first few years – or maybe a decade – will be very challenging for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as the situation will remain complex and volatile. Afghanistan will be stable as early as the political process is successful, there is a complete and smooth transition of power, and there is a proper structure and governing system. This success of political process again depends upon the success or failure of the reconciliation process.
Pakistan is suffering from militancy and bloodshed since more than a decade now, as the overall situation remains violent, full of turmoil, with ever increasing suicide blasts and terrorist activities. Pakistan is closely following the US withdrawal, as we believe that peace and stability in Afghanistan will definitely ensure peace and stability in the region and, specifically, in Pakistan. This piece will provide a brief commentary on what the strategy of Pakistan should be after the allied forces exit Afghanistan. Whatever it is that the policy makers are deciding and planning at this crucial juncture, we definitely cannot afford any misadventure this time.
During an interview with one of the academicians, it was concluded that Pakistan cannot afford to have an anti-Pak government in Kabul, as it will not be going to favor Islamabad in any possible way. After the elections in Kabul, if the new government is not pro-Pak, at least it should not be anti-Pak either, as it would create a polar environment in South Asia. A very pro-Indian government in Kabul will not have any positive impact on the region, as it will definitely create polarity and insecurity between two nuclear-armed neighbors. This time, when another superpower is exiting from Afghanistan, Pakistan needs to keep a friendly approach via strong diplomatic channels. Pakistan needs to invest in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Afghan people and help them rebuild their infrastructure. This is the time to regain their trust and invest in tangible and long term goals.
This time Pakistan should get involved in constructive engagement with Afghanistan, in order to avoid animosity, hatred and further issues. The role of Pakistan should not be more than that of a facilitator, and it should support Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solutions and processes. Border management should be a priority this time, in order to avoid cross border movements and activities. This should be thoroughly focused, both by Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to curb and fight militancy and terrorists. Pakistan should not support any specific ethnic group in Afghanistan; the stance should be more than neutral and endorse what the Afghans decide for themselves. Both the countries should try to build a mutual relation based on trust in order to cooperate with each other.
Pakistan should also devise some pragmatic strategy for the return of the Afghan refugees. At the moment, the situation in Afghanistan is not stable and how it will shape up in the near future is also quite predictable, as the Afghan National Security Forces are yet not able to stabilize the country. Though they have been trained and given a chance to participate in operations, but still they are not able to handle a sudden shift of power after the withdrawal. Besides, the green-on-blue attacks (personnel of Afghan National Security Forces killing NATO/US/Allies) also created apprehension and discomfort among the NATO and US forces.
The fear of ‘an unstable, chaotic Afghanistan’ is still there and dominates the viewpoints. This will be the most likely situation if the peace and reconciliation process fails or breaks down. Both Pakistan and India need to understand the sensitivity of the situation rather than jumping again to fight using their proxies. Pakistan’s concerns are valid at their own place and to resolve those overt and covert issues, there should be a dialogue process. At the present moment, Pakistan is not in a position to lead another misadventure nor can it afford further conflict and violence in the region. Any sort of violence, conflict or regional skirmish will further worsen the already wrecked existing scenario, and it will be devastating for Pakistan’s economy, security, national unity and image. So, there should be no vacuum left in Afghanistan for some external power to fill, as that will deteriorate the condition. Through some acceptable power sharing formula, all groups and factions should come and try to resolve the issue. The Taliban have agreed to negotiate and it is very likely that they will be having some place in the government. The Taliban should understand and accept the Afghan Constitution and law, in order to be accepted locally.
Pakistan should try to keep the Afghan turmoil in Afghanistan; it should not cross the border and affect Pakistan as it affected for the last many years. Pakistan should not act as a villain; rather a friendly cooperative approach will have a way forward. Another academician shared that this time Pakistan has to play its cards very effectively, with great calculations, in order not to repeat the old mistakes. Pakistan should not be more than a ‘facilitator’ in the peace process which is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. For our internal issues and crises, we need to have a very sound, well-articulated security policy. Secondly, after the withdrawal, Pakistan has to watch out for external threats even more carefully and vigilantly on both the eastern and western borders.
Presently, no regional players seem to be in a mood of prolonged and consistent violence and conflict, as the region in general has severely been affected during the last decade. We noticed that during the last decades, instability and chaos in Afghanistan, somehow, created more instability and anarchy in Pakistan. Pakistan has emerged as the worst victim of this ‘global war on terror’. Besides material and human sacrifices, its name and image has been badly destroyed in the last years, which in return affected internal stability, economics and social life.
Pakistan must not exceed her role beyond being a ‘facilitator’ in the peace process in Afghanistan. Pakistan should maintain an unbiased and friendly approach with all the factions in Afghanistan. Pakistan should not be an actor or selector, but should rather let the Afghan people decide for themselves what is suitable for them.
An anti-Pak government in Kabul will not be in Pakistan’s favor as it will keep the tension and vulnerability high in the region. India’s interests in Afghanistan are definitely going to have security implications on Pakistan. After the withdrawal, India will increase her role in Afghanistan, and if it goes unrestricted, Pakistan will definitely have apprehensions that will affect peace in the region. Both India and Pakistan have interests in Afghanistan, and it is for sure that Pakistan cannot afford to have an anti-Pakistan government in Kabul, if in any case it is not friendly.
Pakistan should get actively involved in reconstruction and rehabilitation in Afghanistan. Pakistan should be engaged in tangible and sustainable assistance to the Afghan people. Pakistan has to change its foreign policy and national security strategy in the coming days; militancy should not be a tool of the foreign policy of Pakistan. There has to be a civil-military consensus on matters like Afghanistan and security. There needs to be a proper border management as the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan creates a lot of confusion and inability to tackle with the militant groups effectively. The border needs to be stable, in order to provide stability to the whole country and to manage insurgency. So, in short, with an exit of another ‘superpower’ from Afghanistan, Pakistan really needs to think on pragmatic terms that suit her interests and also maintain peace and stability in the region.