The protracted Afghanistan crisis takes another stride as the Taliban regains power in Kabul in the aftermath of the withdrawal of United States (US) troops from Afghanistan. The resurgence of the Taliban has revamped the geopolitical architecture of the region whilst brewing world order for another paradigm shift as the US regional influence witness a major blow. These developments have simultaneously offered China an opportunity to further extend its regional economic endeavors by filling the vacuum through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In retrospect, the majority of political analysts and experts across the globe shared disquieting predictions regarding security implications for both, neighboring countries and region. Notwithstanding with pessimistic assertions of western regimes, the recent and rather abrupt withdrawal of the US-led coalition from Afghanistan in a broader spectrum can be utilized as the transformational regional transition of power dominated by the imperatives of geo-economics. From the global trends perspective, the vertex point of global economic gravity shifts towards China and East Asia. Furthermore the contours of a new economic and political geography are also becoming visible with enhanced connectivity among western China, Pakistan, and Central Asia. Henceforth, the conflict transformation in Afghanistan offer opportunities through creating a vacuum of economic dependency alongside the security vulnerability. Pakistan being the next-door neighbor to the war-torn country has an involuntary role to play to address the formidable challenges rising from the unfolding situation of Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.
Being a responsible state, Pakistan reaffirms its commitment to support the provision of humanitarian relief to the Afghan people under the United Nations (UN) umbrella, and the continuity of its in-kind assistance to Afghanistan.
Pakistan reasserted its commitment to facilitate the UN in its humanitarian relief efforts by providing logistical and other support through Pakistan.Ensuring sustainable development and promoting respect for human rights requires political stability and peace in Afghanistan. While peace cannot consolidate unless Afghanistan is provided the necessary economic and fiscal space. Pakistan has to play key role in Afghanistan for following reasons:
First, the domestic situation of Afghanistan holds direct implications on Pakistan due to longstanding geographic, economic, cultural and ideological proximity. Secondly, the enduring success of reoriented Pakistan’s geo-economic vision is directly linked with prosperity and progress of Afghanistan. Third, the complex interdependence and great power politics made Pakistan a significant actor in shaping up the dynamics of regional geopolitical architecture, in particular the rehabilitation and development of Afghanistan.
Fourth, majority pre-existing constraints of Pak-Afghan bilateral ties dwindled after the internal changes in Afghanistan’s governance structure. Under the Taliban regime Pakistan has opportunity to reinstate much vibrant and pragmatic policy that can secure national interests.
Pakistan’s efforts for the Afghanistan’s rehabilitation and development can be foreseen into short and long term aspects. For short term remedies, since Taliban’s takeover, Pakistan has a similar stance, as peace and stability in Afghanistan is vital for the growth and prosperity of not only Pakistan but the entire region. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan has opted a pragmatic policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan’s subtle situation. The interface of its foreign policy calculus so far whirls around the humanitarian assistance coupled with effective diplomatic maneuverings by engaging the key stakeholder’s for setting the prospects of stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
- Pakistan has expressed support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, non-interventionist approach in its domestic affairs; whilst highlighting that the future of Afghanistan should be determined by its people.
- Islamabad so far has urged international community, including all of Afghanistan’s neighbors, to develop an inclusive approach to respond to the new realities in Afghanistan and restore peace and stability.
- Pakistan at all the diplomatic fronts through bilateral/ multi-lateral engagements highlighted The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) as well as other UN agencies crucial role in ensuring timely and expedited delivery of humanitarian aid.
- Pakistan has also called for restoration of Afghanistan’s access to its financial resources that is viable to combat further exacerbation of the economic soft patch.
- In coordination with the UN agencies, Pakistan has established a “Humanitarian Air Bridge” for the provision of supplies of essential food and medical items to Afghanistan.
- For peace and stability, Pakistan has emphasized that Afghanistan’s territory should not be allowed to pose a threat to other countries, cautioned against the possibility of incitement and role of spoilers.
- Pakistan also remains available as a part of the Extended Troika format on Afghanistan that includes Pakistan, China, Russia, and the US, It has a crucial role to play for Afghanistan’s future.
- Despite vitiated situation, Pakistan resumed the bilateral cross-border trade between two states for the crisis management.
- Pakistan also agrees to facilitate the UN in its humanitarian relief efforts by providing logistical and other support through Pakistan.
Humanitarian and Diplomatic Efforts
On its part, Pakistan has been supporting the humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan in several ways, including by facilitating the evacuation and relocation of international staff, and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of relief goods through air and land routes.
Pakistan has already been airlifting humanitarian assistance comprising food and medicines to Afghanistan, which will be followed by supplies through land routes as well. Pakistan continues to host more than 3 million Afghan refugees for over four decades. Over the years, and have also earmarked over one billion US dollars for a range of development projects in Afghanistan.
Pakistan International Airline (PIA) evacuated 1460 passengers, mostly ‘foreign nationals’, from Kabul under its humanitarian mission after the Taliban’s takeover, the world during a crisis situation, and this gesture gained heap acknowledgement across the world. At this critical juncture, Pakistan became the first country that has extended humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Fourth, C-130 plan of Pakistan delivered a consignment of relief food and medicines for the people in different regions of Afghanistan. Pakistan has also operationalized its regular commercial flights to Kabul after the Taliban’s takeover.
Prime Minister during the Meeting of the Heads of Delegations of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on “Outreach on Afghanistan” urged the international community for enhanced engagement and reinforcedthat abandoning Afghanistan would create an unstable situation leading to the rise in terrorist incidents, negative spillover effect on neighboring countries and transnational organized crimes.
On the diplomatic front, Pakistan hosted a virtual meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors – China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to discuss plausible solutions of simmering economic crisis. Likewise, Pakistan’s Foreign Minster Shah Mahmood Qureshi paid visits to Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Iran to discuss the evolving Afghanistan Situation and regional dynamics.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also deliberated upon the Afghanistan’s progress and development with the heads of Kingdom of audi Arabia (KSA) , Qatar, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates (UAE). Apart from that, Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar also visited Pakistan to discuss prospectus for collective engagement for rehabilitation and development in Afghanistan. One of the notable developments after the US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is the renewed Pak-EU engagement for stability and enduring peace. Various Foreign Ministers, including Germany, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, UK, and Netherland, visited Pakistan in span of two weeks under the Afghanistan Diplomacy.
Pakistan also activated its telephonic diplomacy. Its Foreign Minister did telephonic deliberations with his counterparts, and state officials of the US, Canada, Slovakia, Romania, Poland, KSA, UAE and Denmark for the humanitarian assistance initiative for Afghanistan. Likewise, during the High-level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan held in Geneva, Pakistan apprised the international community about continued humanitarian support by Pakistan in several ways, including by facilitating the evacuation and relocation of international staff, establishment of a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of relief goods, and in-kind assistance by Pakistan for their Afghan brethren through air and land routes. Pakistan is also determined to provide humanitarian assistance containing food and medicines to Afghanistan. Extending international solidarity with the Afghan people, both in terms of financial, humanitarian and political support, Islamabad called for developmental partnerships, nation-building and development, and fulfill the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.
As far as global institutional engagement is concerned, Pakistan instrumented key diplomatic engagements for the economic packages, averting humanitarian and refugee’s crisis with multinational forums such as SCO, World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Development Bank, European Union (EU), Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
During annual Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting, Pakistan also urged the international community to avoid the mistake of abandoning Afghanistan, adopt a pragmatic approach, and sustain engagement. At this critical juncture, the Afghan nation must be helped to walk firmly along the path of peace, progress, and prosperity.
To address the security concerns, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) head visit Afghanistan, CIA’s chief visit to Pakistan and multinational: Pakistan China, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan Turkmenistan, and Russian intelligence heads gathering is another vital development for Afghanistan, and regional security dynamics. Henceforth, it can be argued that Pakistan’s stance, efforts and engagement for Afghanistan show rational intent and contributions for Afghanistan’s stability and sustainable progress. However, the aforementioned policy imperatives are reductionist strategies that may settle the dust, somehow in larger canvas, Afghanistan’s situation demands a broad-band and farfetched policy model from Islamabad. For that Policymakers and stakeholders have to introspect the pre-existing strategic and policy manual, further revamping would benefit Pakistan, and region. In account of this, a re-oriented multilayered approach that can preserve the national interest and secure positive-sum gains for Afghanistan is vitally essential.
CPEC Extension to Afghanistan:
Taliban’s resurgence to power in Afghanistan has pitched another debate: what should be Pakistan’s diplomatic policy formation towards Afghanistan? Let’s lay the basic argument, just put all the efforts (covert/ overt) for the extension of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan because the fallouts of the US withdrawal have offered Pakistan a golden opportunity to drive CPEC in the region.
Indeed, CPEC itself has become imperative for the prosperity of Afghanistan for the following reasons:
First, The US has frozen nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank and stopped shipments of cash to the nation as it tries to keep a Taliban-led government from accessing the money, making war-torn state economically vulnerable and dependent on the assistance and collective partnerships. On the other hand, the majority of western regimes are less interested in the financial assistance of Afghanistan under the Taliban Regime. Thus, Afghanistan for its future economic exigencies depends on regional actors whilst CPEC can fill that vacuum meeting up the economic necessities of Afghanistan.
Second, the aid and donations provided by the international organizations, states and institutions may assist to combat the simmering humanitarian crisis for the short period of time. The sustainable development and rehabilitation of Afghanistan seeks long term policy measures and developmental plans that can hold the state pillars strong with reference to its progress and prosperity, as the regional economic developmental trends are already driven by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) led projects, thus it offers CPEC to make inroads into Afghanistan and creating positive sum gains for the entire regionally engaged states.
Third, Afghanistan has now further converge the Sino-Pak interests, for instance, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the “Taliban’s support China’s One Belt, One Road initiative that seeks to link China with Africa, Asia and Europe through an enormous network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks. China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country.”
It is pertinent to mention that China has also offered at least $31m worth of emergency aid, including coronavirus vaccines to Afghanistan as the Taliban revealed the members of its new government. The bilateral engagement between Kabul and Beijing alleviates Pakistan’s posture due to strong strategic, geographic proximities and convergences of economic, and security interests with China.
Fourthly, from Beijing’s perspective, its role as the economic superpower envisioned to develop regional markets under the BRI, is crucial in shaping the future economic outlook. Stability in Afghanistan is directly linked to the timely implementation of connectivity infrastructure projects in Pakistan, Iran, and central Asia. In broader spectrum, Afghanistan’s economic comparative advantage is vested in its central location to connect South and Central Asia to the Middle East and its vast mineral resources estimated over one trillion dollars. Thus, CPEC may take center stage for benefiting Afghanistan and further accomplishing BRI resounding goals with greater success.
Fifth, CPEC has potential for directly complement China’s regional connectivity ambitions and expertise to develop supporting infrastructure for mineral development through building a locomotive infrastructure, technology transfer, skills development, and linkages to markets through Afghanistan to CARs and leading to Eastern Europe.
Sixth, China is heavily investing in developing its western provinces, which border with Pakistan, Tajikistan, and the Kyrgyz republic. Any destabilization in Afghanistan will have direct repercussions on development in these regions, thus China foresees Afghanistan economic security through, investments creation of jobs for Afghan youth and strengthen ownership of the Chinese approach towards economic development as the main instrument of diplomatic partnership to avert plausible spill over security concerns that may hamper its geo-economic interests. In this regard, policy option for the Pakistan on the table may include:
- The role of Pakistan is vital for timely structuring and mediating a strategic regional support package for Afghanistan, in this regard Pakistan can engage the Middle Eastern states and other allies such as China, Russia and Turkey to provide Afghanistan a much-needed economic relief.
- Regional financial institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, BRICS Bank, and Islamic Development Bank, hold significant amount of liquidity, Pakistan should initiate diplomatic maneuverings for the “humanitarian assistance package” loans schemes for the Afghanistan to avert the chances of sudden economic collapse that may push the state into civil warfare.
- Pakistan must take multilateral initiatives for convening SCO session to discuss the Afghanistan situation. As out of 150 ethnic groups living in the SCO region, around 30 are living in Afghanistan; therefore, SCO has a vital role to play for the conflict reconciliation, development and for building confidence and trust; and developing empathy among indigenous groups.
- Dedicated fund could be held for the reconstruction and development of the war-torn nation. Projects like Peshawar to Kabul motorway and value addition to Afghan fruits and vegetables in Rashakai Economic Zone could be started immediately.
- As the stability and confidence of the new regime, the private investors will start coming back, and the contribution of internal revenue generation will start increasing. The security situation in Afghanistan will remain the key factor for providing safe passage for transit trade, regional connectivity, and mineral development.
- Efforts should be made to further strengthen the efficacy of the border management regime and contingency plans should be taken to ensure internal security to tackle the evolving security situation along the Pak-Afghan border.
- Security establishment must formulate a mechanism (covert/overt) through utility bargaining chips to address domestic security concerns, stemming threats from Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan,and Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and other outfits across the border.
- The establishment of the Taliban regime should not impact the bilateral trade/economic ties between Kabul and Islamabad. The current situation offers Islamabad opportunities to revamp its economic preferences. Policymakers should more focus on projecting their economic vision.
- Pakistan can prevail on the Taliban Government that an inclusive outlook must be developed to gather acceptability amongst the nations of the World, including emancipation of women, education, a conventional justice system, and social diversity that needs to be accepted just as is it should be in Pakistan as well.
- Afghanistan is dependent on its neighbor countries for electricity, which has not been built in the past 20 years. CASA-1000 includes Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as one electric grid. If Pakistan manage to execute the projects with all the stakeholders, that will create win-win situation for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- The future of Afghanistan’s indigenous is based on its natural reservoirs. It is enriched with rare-earth and other metals like lithium, beryllium and tantalum that are necessary for modern electronics and high-technology products. This opportunity can be capitalized by Islamabad through provision of technical assistance. Such an approach will enhance bilateral economic cooperation.
- Five-Nation Railway (China-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran) and the corridor from Peshawar (Pakistan) to Kabul and to Dushanbe. Therefore, building the missing links inside Afghanistan should become the focus for Islamabad’s reconstruction plans.
- Under the Taliban rule, Afghanistan likely to face challenges related to skilled human resources and professional expertise. Pakistan can provide assistance in training the manpower through various initiatives by collaborating international stakeholders.
To conclude, Pakistan has to play a broader role in opting wisely, as this new situation has the potential to reach peace through economic development and win-win cooperation. Apart from establishing sustainable ties with Afghanistan, efforts should be made to avert great risks embedded in the chaotic situation left by NATO in Afghanistan. Indeed any peace and reconciliation initiatives of Islamabad should also contain the reconstruction of the economy as the main item on the agenda. The challenges are daunting. The situation is becoming dire for around 18 million people of Afghanistan – directly in need of humanitarian assistance. A sluggish response from the international community can cause grave humanitarian consequences.