Perspective

Time for Pakistan to walk the talk on Afghanistan

Published Feb 19, 2017 12:52am

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Photo courtesy AFP
Photo courtesy AFP

If there is no peace and stability in Afghanistan, there will be no peace and stability in Pakistan. Afghanistan has suffered from external interference and intervention of one kind or another throughout its history. It continues to be challenged by repeated interference today.

Pakistan has a choice. It can either work with the government in Kabul and with Afghanistan’s other neighbours to strengthen the foundations of peace and stability in the fractured and war-torn country — or it can join in the “scramble for Afghanistan”, by seeking to stake out a maximum share of external influence in Afghanistan for itself.

Pakistan talks one policy, but walks the other. The former option – working towards peace and stability – is a positive-sum strategy and can be a real winner for Pakistan. Given the build-up of mutual mistrust over several decades, this option will, of course, not be easy. It will take effort and time. However, the latter option – scrambling for maximum influence or “strategic depth” or hegemony in Afghanistan, if only to minimise the influence of a perennial adversary, India – has been and will remain a zero-sum mug’s game for Pakistan.

Nevertheless, given the perversity of our political and decision-making processes, we have consistently opted for the mug’s game. As a result, we frittered away the enormous Afghan goodwill that Pakistan had accumulated during the Soviet occupation. After the Soviet defeat and withdrawal, we (wittingly or unwittingly) unleashed a ruinous civil war and imposed a barbaric and medieval Taliban upon the hapless Afghan people.

Our Afghan “experts” (those who cogently, if not credibly, articulate the interests and preferences of elite and kinetic institutions) have sought to explain away policies that fatally undermine our image and standing among the Afghan people — Pakhtun and non-Pakhtun alike. Our Afghan policy, moreover, is India-centric and, accordingly, ignores Afghan realities.

We simply deny responsibility for cross-border flows of weapons and jihadis into Afghanistan, which is undermining the security of the elected regime in Kabul that we recognise. Instead, we accuse Kabul of doing the same to Pakistan at India’s behest. Moreover, we have complicated and contradictory policies towards the Afghan Taliban, as we support and oppose them simultaneously.

As a result, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China) has, for the time being, been replaced as the main external influence on Kabul by a trilateral group comprising Afghanistan, Iran and India.


This article was originally published in the Herald's February 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.


The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

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Comments (12) Closed



shah anwar Feb 19, 2017 01:15am

Great article... I think the writer has hit the nail right on its head.

nadeem ansari Feb 20, 2017 05:40am

Very lucid thinking . A great Pakistani. As an Indian , I bow to his wisdom. I wish he were with us.

Ustad Feb 20, 2017 05:53am

Spot on analysis! Are the boys listening?

Osman Feb 20, 2017 12:09pm

It's not that simple. If Kabul wants good relations with India at all costs, it's going to be a problem. The government in Kabul is not really representative of the people of Afghanistan anyway.

Shiraz Feb 20, 2017 12:09pm

Calling a spade a spade. But better late then never. We still have time and opportunity to turn the tide.

Dr Kadar Khan FRCS Feb 20, 2017 02:42pm

Brief and to the point about pakistan's perverse Afghan policy which is dictated by the military establishment and not by the civilian govt. As a pakistani health care professional, I have lived and worked in Kabul and Kandahar for a few years and I can honestly say Afghans hate us like anything and prefers Indians over us and it is all due to our flawed Afghan policies.

Paiman Feb 21, 2017 06:55am

@Osman I think we have a better idea of our national interests and stating that the government is not for the people of Afghanistan is completely wrong. We as intellectuals of Afghanistan are very much satisfied by the policies of Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Ghani. He is building institutions that actually will result in a stronger economy. Apart from that the article may have justified that reasons of bitter relationship between Afghans and Pakistani.

Haseeb Feb 21, 2017 09:14am

dont say that Pakistani peace is related with Afghanistan,s peace. we were stable during most violant years of Afghanistan 1985 ti 2004 . whatever Pak ll do Afghanistan will never give away its friendship with india that means terror financing & support by india would not stop at any cost. Afghanistan just want to bleed us enough to make us bow before them and to force us to say Pak and Afgan stability is co related . Afghanistan was never our friend and ll never be. look at history . they were only to oppose our creation. they are out enemies from day one and now we have to realise this. we ll better to die instead of bowing infront of most fargile nation.

roy Meddock Feb 21, 2017 09:15am

Great article. The illusion of strategic depth and the desire to rule Afghanistan through proxies has only brought ruin.

Iqbal Bhai Feb 21, 2017 11:08am

India has made huge investment (read thrown money) into Afghanistan. Ghani is not going to be friendly with Pakistan under any circumstances. He has joined hands with former warlords who were mass murders of yester year. How come you shift the blame squarely on Pakistan?

Ahmed Feb 21, 2017 03:19pm

@Osman This mindset of "elected government of some country being not representative of people" is the biggest problem for Pakistan. It had been elected with democratic means and officially it represents Afghanistan. What else we need? Pakistan should avoid seeing India in every angle. Afghanistan relations should be based on Afghans and not India. Let all us grow.

P.Mishra Feb 21, 2017 04:26pm

@Ahmed Correct