Malik M Ashraf
In the backdrop of droning the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor Akhtar on the Pakistani soil and the strain that the incident put on relations between the two countries, the US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Olson and Chairman US Senate Arms Services Committee Senator John McCain along with a congressional delegation, came to Pakistan in an ostensible move to resurrects the ties between the two countries. They have held talks with the civilian and military leadership where the focus of discussion invariably was regional security and peace in Afghanistan, repatriation of Afghan refugees and overall relations between the two countries.
The Pakistani side underlined its focus on effective border management on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border with a view to enhancing security and counter-terrorism efforts and also the need for repatriation of the Afghan refugees. Pakistan also reiterated its commitment to the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) as an effective forum to facilitate the Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process. The Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif talking to Senator John McCain underlined the need to check unlawful movements on the Pak-Afghan border. He said a stable Afghanistan was in Pakistan’s interest and the relationship between both countries held the key to regional peace and security.
Both the visiting dignitaries more or less agreed with the Pakistani position on these issues and Senator McCain in particular was very appreciative of Pakistan’s role in combating terrorism and the success of operation Zarb-i-Azb after visiting Miran Shah. But the irony is that in spite of the acknowledgement of the need for border management to check the wave of across the border terrorism, nothing worthwhile has been done. It is worth mentioning that during almost all interactions between the Afghan and Pakistan authorities and the intelligence outfits of the two countries, the issue of border management has remained on top of the agenda. In the backdrop of the APS attack the intelligence agencies concluded an agreement for exchange of information and cooperation in regards to effective border management. Even before the commencement of operation Zarb-i-Azb the Afghan authorities were taken into confidence with the request to take care of the border so that no terrorist from North Waziristan could escape to Afghanistan. Regrettably that cooperation was never extended, with the result that the operatives of TTP launched more attacks on Pakistan soil while sitting in Afghanistan, like the one on Bacha Khan University.
In this regard the entire blame cannot be hurled at the Afghan government. The US which has a military presence in Afghanistan and has a great influence on the Afghan government failed to either persuade the Afghan government to extend necessary cooperation to Pakistan in this regard or deliberately avoided the finalization of such an arrangement. The USA unfortunately has been pursuing a policy in Afghanistan which is in conflict with the ground realities in that country and the result is before us. Afghanistan remains as conflict-ridden as it was when the US and NATO forces launched their blitzkrieg. Reportedly Senator John McCain, according to a private TV channel, has said that the responsibility of trouble in Afghanistan and failure to resolve it did not lie with Pakistan or President Ashraf Ghani but with the wrong and failed policies of President Obama.
As rightly pointed out by Pakistan government and the COAS, regional security and peace in Afghanistan depends on peace in both the countries. The geographical realities cannot be changed. There can be no peace in Pakistan until Afghanistan returns to normalcy and vice versa. There is a need for sincere efforts on the part of all the stakeholders to adopt a strategy and mechanism which contributes to bringing real peace in the region and an effective check on the phenomenon of terrorism. The QCG probably is the best forum currently available to make some headway towards that end, provided the USA first of all plays a mediatory role in helping the Afghan government and Pakistan to resolve their differences and misgivings about each other and make the former realize that no solution to the Afghan conundrum was possible or conceivable without active involvement and cooperation of Pakistan. The US also needs to trust Pakistan’s credentials as an honest and committed partner in promoting peace in Afghanistan and stop accusing it of duplicitous role that it has been doing invariably.
Under the prevailing circumstances, Pakistan would be last country to wish continuation of conflict in Afghanistan. Peace in Afghanistan was absolutely essential for peace in Pakistan, implementing its new narrative of building regional linkages for shared economic prosperity, realization of CPEC and repatriation of 3 million Afghan refugees. The US also needs to revisit its policy of assigning greater role to India in Afghanistan and the consideration of permanent deployment of US troops in Afghanistan like Korea, Japan and Germany, as is being currently contemplated in certain circles in the US administration. The top most demand of Taliban is exit of US troops from Afghanistan. The US can strengthen the QCG mechanism by accepting the reality that it cannot force a solution of its own choice in Afghanistan.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.