For Pakistan, it is better and safer to interact with Afghanistan on the basis of established state-to-state norms because this is a relationship from which we cannot insulate ourselves nor simply push aside. There are few examples in the world where 50,000 people cross a border, unrecognized by one side, on a daily basis without any papers. This, in itself, and the people-to-people interactions make Pak-Afghan relations very close and intimate. “However, there is also the relationship between Islamabad and Kabul; and here we need to be cautious not to make policy statements or give directions on Kabul’s behalf. Pakistan should not treat Afghanistan as its fifth province or liability. Let them work out their issues on their own. How the Afghans run their country, or want to, is their business. Not ours.”
These were the views of Ambassador (R) Riaz Mohammad Khan, Former Foreign Secretary, Government of Pakistan at the Guest Lecture on Pakistan-Afghanistan: Way Forward for Bilateral Relations organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute here in Islamabad today.
Ambassador Khan providing his insights from the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to signing of the Geneva Accord said that Soviet withdrawal did not prevent continuation of the conflict; the same is feared if the Americans leave Kabul precipitously. “The current peace deal was tenuous to begin with since it was pushed by President Trump due to his re-election bid and past campaign promises. It had limited support from defence and diplomatic heavyweights in Washington because negotiations without a ceasefire or reduction in conflict gave Taliban the upper hand. Withdrawal without a plan of action to ensure that there is no civil war and the gains on the ground are not lost is unwise,” he said. Pakistan should also have a policy of having no favorites in terms of future Afghan governance even to contain the mischief of India who will have to go through Kabul and Washington, not the Taliban. “We will not target the Taliban or their families; and be candid and upfront on this approach with Washington and Kabul,” he advised.
He was of the view that the Afghan conflict is complex and Afghanistan is riven with deep schisms of a political, ethnic, sectarian and ideological character. The hope that this 40-year old conflict has run its course depends on two trajectories: reduction in violence and some form of intra-Afghan dialogue for a political settlement. “Reduction of violence will depend on a formal or informal ceasefire which is inextricably linked to the question of a timeline for withdrawal and the compulsions of the current US President” he stressed.
The Ambassador observed that the leadership in Kabul needs to understand the miseries of their own people and think beyond the acrimonious past and work towards a coalition plan for peace in their country.