Pakistan-Afghanistan in world focus | By Rashid A Mughal


Pakistan-Afghanistan in world focus

THE US led invasion of Afghanistan after the incidence of 9/11 opened new debate vis-a-vis tracing the roots and strategies of nabbing terrorism in this region.

The use of military force was considered essential to demolish the evil forces known to the world by the name of Al-Qaeda and thereafter the ‘War on Terror’ became the flashpoint of the 21st Century.

The invasion impressed upon countries to change their foreign policy in the best interest of global peace by fighting the ‘War on Terror’.

Pakistan, being the most important neighbour of Afghanistan, joined the war against the forces of terror. The ghost of militancy started to haunt Pakistan as the terrorists’ targeted city after city.

Pakistan wanted to keep its arch enemy, India at bay which was not only a close ally of the (former) Soviet Union but was more focused on taking full control of Indian Ocean, setting its eyes to acquire a permanent seat in the Security Council, aiming to damage the nuclear program of Pakistan and domination over the entire South Asia and littoral states.

India is still pursuing her goals and it is maximizing threat perception of Pakistan by countering Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

The United States was not the only casualty of 9/11. The attacks hit Pakistan differently with equal savage force. We feel the ramifications to this day. No other country has faced as many threats on as many fronts as Pakistan has been facing since US bombing of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is the next down neighbour on the north west of Pakistan and both countries are of immense geo-strategic and geo-political importance for each other.

Both the countries have certain degree of commonality when it comes to culture, religion, history and ethnicity.

But the conflicting position on Durand Line, rise of militancy in the region and frequent blame games have turned them into rivals rather than friends.

Since the Soviet occupation, Afghanistan posed a serious threat to Pakistan and the level of threat increased manifolds after the US attacked Afghanistan for wiping the Taliban regime.

The post 9/11 military action of the NATO forces put immense international pressure and compelled Pakistan to become the front line state in fighting the ‘War on Terror’.

(Erstwhile) Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that became the sanctuary of militants owing to the porous Pak-Afghan border and borne the brunt of the militancy along with the settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The staggering death rate due to militancy in the region are hard to fathom in addition to social and economic damages particularly when it comes to FATA and KP.

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan at the end of year 2014 occurred without the complete defeat of Afghan Taliban and this encouraged Pakistani Taliban that in a similar manner they can challenge the writ of Pakistani Government.

In the current scenario, Pakistan has to effectively deal with the local militants and has to wisely counter the blame game emanating from the Afghan Government for the stability in FATA and KP.

If Afghanistan after the US withdrawal like Iraq becomes the battle ground of proxy wars it will have serious security threats for Pakistan and the major effects will be seen in FATA and KP.

The US has gained nothing in the thirteen years war in Afghanistan, the counter insurgency operations by the US and NATO forces have yielded no positive results for the threat of Taliban has not diminished from the region. The terrorism which the Americans came to eliminate has increased, not decreased.

When the withdrawal of the US and NATO was at the corner, the same year 2014 is regarded as the deadliest year after 2001for more than 3180 civilians were killed, 6430 were injured and there was 33% increase being witnessed in the deadliest battleground.

The rising death toll puts the performance of Afghan national security forces in question and signifies the drawbacks of ‘Resolute Support Mission’.

The US needs not to undermine that professional development of the armed forces could not be achieved in the prescribed timeline. Armed forces take years to mature and acquire proficiency.

Pakistan is geopolitically the most important country of the Asian heartland as many experts and analysts mention.

It is not land locked, parched and isolated. It is widely believed that Afghanistan and Pakistan are not only next door neighbours but the connections are deeper for their similarity in history, religion, culture, trade language and ethnic linkages.

Despite the similarities between the two countries the relations between them have remained in doldrums over the issue of Durand Line and the idea of greater Pakhtunistan, the Soviet invasion, the Taliban rise in the region, unending war on terror, India’s increasing influence in Afghanistan and currently the peace dialogue with Taliban in the context of US withdrawal from the region are bone of contention and sources of threat to Pakistan.

When Pakistan got independence in 1947 the basic principle of its foreign policy as enunciated by Quaid-i-Azam was “peace at home and peace abroad”. Therefore the primal objective was to establish friendly relations with Afghanistan.

However, Afghanistan was reluctant to accept the newly established state and owing to the complex dynamics of its creation considered it fragile to survive in the long run and set the eyes on its territory.

Attempts were made to create obstacles for Pakistan by renouncing the Durand Line and it adopted a rigid posture on an Independent “Pashtun nation”. However, Pakistan marginalized all the claims of Afghanistan.

Stability in Afghanistan can be achieved after the US withdrawal only if the countries in the region play their role positively in the war torn country

A stable Afghanistan is of paramount importance to Pakistan because without it stability in FATA and KP is a distant cry.

Pakistan needs to be vigilant to internal challenges from militancy in Afghanistan and its spill-over in bordering areas including curbing insurgency in Baluchistan.

The issue of IDPs and Drone attacks if not addressed properly will make the displaced individuals vulnerable to the diabolic plans of the militants who may use them against Pakistan posing serious threat to the writ of the state.

Further, the absence of developmental projects in FATA and KP leads to abject poverty which will remain the hallmark of the region unless the internal strife is not resolved and the governance is not improved.

No doubt Pakistan has become a focal and important state in the region after the US withdrawal and hence our foreign policy makers have a tough task ahead of them to devise policies in keeping with ground realities.

— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.

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