Afghanistan: Enduring crisis

Iqbal Khan

A Stimson Centre convened study group has brought out interesting figures indicating that America has smoked off $ 2.8 trillion down the drain in the name of counter terrorism during 2002-17. And in 2017, expenditure was $175 billion, that is an eleven-fold hike over 2001 levels. Peak expenditure was $260 billion in 2008. This is the first accounting of cross-government spending on counter-terrorism. Report captioned as “Protecting America While Promoting Efficiencies and Accountability”, tracks funding changes across nearly two decades of shifting counter-terrorism strategies. And to what end? Territories keep changing hands between occupation and insurgent forces. Taliban are continuously improving their tally with regard to area they control, and their attacks in urban centres is now an accepted normal Special Auditor General for Afghanistan Reconstruction(SIGAR) has continuously been pointing out the wastefulness of this expenditure projects which were never needed and projects which never got completed alongside recycling of substantial amount back to the US in the shape of NGOs’ overhead expenditures and salaries constitute huge proportion of this expenditure. A handsome amount has also been channelised to Afghan Taliban for providing security to American military convoys. “For over 17 years, policymakers and the public have been unable to determine how much we spend on counter-terrorism,” said study group director, Laicie Heeley. There is no govt wide definition of counter-terrorism spending, thus preventing meaningful public access to wholesome spending data.
While Americans may continue various studies and analyses about their counter terrorism effort, here, in this part of the World, Pakistan and Afghanistan have finalized the Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). Five working groups have been operationalised for meaningful engagement: Politico-Diplomatic Working Group; Economic Working Group; Refugee Working Group; Military to Military Coordination; Intelligence Cooperation. After the finalisation of APAPPS, both the countries will be able to develop a mechanism of sustainable cooperation covering all the gaps in the way of cordial bilateral relations. Deputy Afghan Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, who was heading an Afghan delegation for a meeting of APAPPS, graciously stated on May 15 that “Pakistan is not part of the problem but solution to the current challenges facing Afghanistan”. Afghan deputy foreign minister said Pakistan and Afghanistan shared many commonalities, including challenges and opportunities. Pakistani side, led by Foreign Secretary, congratulated Afghan delegates for finalising APAPPS and expressed the hope that agreement would be instrumental in bringing both sides closer; it was reiterated that Pakistan wants lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Both sides reiterated that the economy should be separated from politics; “rather, economic cooperation should be given a chance to surpass political impediments”. Fact remains that for sustainable peace in Afghanistan, both the countries need to work together. And Pakistan has a very important role to play for regional peace and stability. APAPPS provides a framework to deepen interaction in all spheres of bilateral engagements. It is also a mechanism for finding solutions to bilateral areas of concern. Both sides agreed that effective and full implementation of APAPPS would contribute towards the common objectives of eliminating terrorism and achieving peace, stability, prosperity and development of the peoples of the two countries.Pakistan and Afghanistan have every reason to come close and cooperate with each other. Both the countries need to reverse the prevailing challenging situation collectively. Both the countries have immense potential, they should complement each other to become a trade corridor through regional connectivity. Prosperity is another name of security, both countries have great future but are only delaying the collective march towards this objective. Earlier, during PM Abbasi’s visit to Kabul, on April 06, Pakistan had reaffirmed its support to the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process, the two countries decided to undertake effective actions against fugitives and the irreconcilable elements posing security threats to either of the two countries. In pursuance of the seven principals agreed in the meeting between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the two sides have now operationalised five working groups envisaged under the APAPPS. They have also agreed to take a fresh start; to bridge existing gaps; to build formal mechanism of cooperation in all areas of mutual interests; and to take collective actions to strengthen trust between the two countries.
Now these working groups would start contributing towards the common objectives of eliminating terrorism and achieving peace, stability, prosperity and development of the people of the two countries. Both countries have committed to deny use of their respective territory by any country, network, group or individuals for anti-state activities against either country. They also decided to put in place a joint supervision, coordination and confirmation mechanism through Liaison Officers (LOs) for realisation of the agreed actions. The agreement assumes special significance in view of the prevailing bitterness in relations caused by multiple factors and reasons. Mechanisms to discuss problems were also there before but now there is more clarity and it is hoped that instead of talking through media, the two sided would use agreed platforms. Much would depend on how these working groups play their part in hammering out differences and forging cooperation for the common good. Pakistan and Afghanistan have to realise that they have no choice but to promote positive neighbourly behaviour, as a high trust level is key to success. There have been dozens of moves in the last decade to stabilise relationship, of these majority has remained still born. Neither countless expenditure by the US nor patchy Pak-Afghan agreements are likely to bring peace to Afghanistan. It needs wholesome effort by the international community to take on board all stakeholders—including Taliban—and commence multilateral peace negotiations.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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