Pakistan shares with Afghanistan 2240 KM common border known as Durand Line. Both the countries have common history, religion and historical trade routes like Khyber Pass & Bolan Pass. Afghanistan being a land locked country its transit trade passes through Pakistan and provides Pakistan a trade route to land locked central Asian states.
A secure and friendly North-Western border has always been in Pakistan’s interest given the Indian threat from the East, but Afghanistan claim on certain areas of Khyber Pakhtunkawh and refusing to accept the Durand line as boundary has been the root cause of animosity between the two countries. This flawed logic is the root cause of disaffection towards Islamabad by successive governments in Kabul disturbing the already fragile security environment in South Asia.
The Soviet occupation created a direct strategic threat to the security of Pakistan, Iran and the Persian Gulf. The Peace Accord between Pakistan and Afghanistan was signed in Geneva on April 14, 1988, with the two superpowers as co-guarantors. Soviets troops left Afghanistan within nine months. The situation again changed with the 9/11 world trade center attacks that brought US in Afghanistan in search of Osama bin laden. Since 2001 till to date, NATO forces are conducting military operations against terrorist groups to establish peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The Present Situation – Analysis:
The peace in Afghanistan remains a dream. Independent Foreign observers believe that the Afghan Taliban control over some 70 districts and takeover of Kunduz and Helmand is a clear indicator that they remain a powerful force both militarily and politically. The present Unity Government formed as a result of Presidential Decree has sharp divisions, discord and constitutional ambiguities.
The precarious condition of Afghan economy is a matter of grave concern. Ghani recently said that almost 70% of Afghans are living below the poverty line. The World Bank report on Afghanistan, 2015 states that ‘The political and security transition has affected Afghanistan’s economy much more deeply than anticipated’ and ‘the medium-term outlook is unfavorable.’ Afghanistan has potential to sustain itself economically; however, lack of infrastructure and security situation remains a major hurdle to achieve this. Afghanistan has massive deposits of coal, copper, lithium, gold, gemstones, and substantial natural gas and oil fields in of nearly $1 trillion.
ANSF are still far below the desired levels of operational readiness. Majority Pashtuns form only 5-7% of the Army.
The ANA has as high as 27% desertion rate. ANP is the most corrupt institution in Afghanistan. Illiterate soldiers with insufficient training make their operational role highly suspect.
Pakistan is hosting over 3.5 million Afghan refugees for many decades. There is a growing feeling that increased terrorist activity in Pakistan is abetted and sponsored by Afghans either inside or across the borders.
Indian Role in Afghanistan:
India has established 12 Consulates in Afghanistan and has a direct hand in many incidents of terrorism and separatist activities in all urban centers of Pakistan including Baluchistan. The Indian National Security Advisor openly advocates buying Taliban to bleed Pakistan. Indian influence in Afghan Government and the sinister nexus between RAW and KHUD is a serious impediment to peace in this troubled region.
Heart of Asia Meetings:
The first meeting of Heart of Asia countries was held on November 2, 2011 at the Istanbul. The meeting was attended by Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates. Pakistan outlined the need for strengthening engagement and collaboration “with a view to effectively combating the formidable challenges confronting the region in the field of security, as well as promoting regional economic interaction.”
Quadrilateral Co – ordination Group:
The second Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group talks collapsed in July last year when there was a leak of Mullah Omar’s death. The US and Chinese pressure provided impetus for talks held on 18th Jan 2016. The 4th Quadrilateral Group meeting on Feb 16 called for direct negotiations between Taliban and Afghan Government. Some Taliban Groups have joined IS Khorasan, the Islamic State’s Franchise in Afghanistan. The Afghan Government believes that onus is on Pakistan to clinch a deal with Taliban, while Pakistan believes it can only facilitate the two sides to sit across the table, while advising condition free approach and a cease fire as a first step forward. Pakistan believes it is the duty of Afghan Government to build trust with Afghan Insurgent groups by giving them political concessions that can persuade them to give up armed struggle.
The Economic Incentives:
The $10 billion gas pipe line project TAPI inaugurated in Dec 2015 linking Central Asia with energy starved South Asian countries Pakistan, India and Afghanistan gives a stake to these countries for peace in the region.
Pakistan’s major interest is that a peaceful, friendly and stable Afghanistan will dictate stability of South Asia in general and of Pakistan in particular. Support Afghan led, Afghan owned, inclusive peace and reconciliation process to defeat the domestic extremism. Neutralize threat to its security emanating from Afghan soil due to sinister nexus of National Directorate of Security (NDS) with Tahreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) elements and RAW.
Greater role in development, reconstruction and capacity building in Afghanistan post 2015. Realization of bilateral and trans-regional trade opportunities to alleviate Pakistan’s energy woes and increased trade with CARs.
Repatriation of Afghan Refugees and to prevent further influx. Control over illicit trade, drug trafficking/ weapon smuggling and trans-national crimes Indian Interests; A government friendly to India, with their deep rooted ingress in all major state departments, gives her the means to create and continue instability on Pakistan’s western frontiers.
India has also shown interest in getting pronounced role in reconstruction, development and training of ANSF, however remains wary of bringing any troops inside Afghanistan.
India would also like to limit China in gaining access to the entire mineral and energy resources in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Iran is strongly opposed to a return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan as it is likely to create political, ethnic, and religious tensions with Iran. Therefore, a stable Taliban-free Afghan government is Iran’s top objective.
Enhance Iranian influence and leverage in Afghanistan by strengthening Shia and pro Iran factions. Notwithstanding recent thaw in relations with US and commonality of interest in Afghanistan, Iran would prefer to have no US troops in Afghanistan.
In collaboration with India, develop communication infrastructure via Afghanistan to act as a hub of trade and transit with Afghanistan and CARs.
Give the Afghan Pashtuns their due representation in the government, including the civil and military bureaucracies as per their population. Reconciliation and peace building role is jointly led by the UN and the OIC with endorsement and support of all the 32countries and 14 organizations that form part of the Heart of Asia process. Reduce the Indian intelligence footprints in Afghanistan for success of peace process. Recognition of Durand Line as border between Pakistan and Afghanistan by Afghanistan along joint fencing and monitoring with Pakistan to check cross border movement of terrorists.
Initiation of an Afghan led and owned dialogue with Pakistan, China, the OIC and the UN, acting as arbitrators and facilitators. This must be followed by the return of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Only bold, tangible and honest actions, like these can induce positive and effective outcomes, for sustainable peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and South Asia.
Maj. Gen. (R) Muhammad Tahir
Writer is renowned author of Books That Changed My Life, Life and Life Lessons’, ‘The Rising and Setting Sun’ and ‘The Pearls of Wisdom’.