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.