Chances are that the subcontinent’s public might get to hear the good news that they have been waiting for, for ages. Indo-Pak relations, which both countries could not extricate from the state of tension for 64 years, may now be on the road to easement due to the influence of the Afghan situation. PM Gilani’s revelation in Perth that a consensus has almost been reached on American demands is glad tidings indeed. The causticity emanating from American officials in the past few weeks and the resultant pressure on Pakistan’s economy had people worried.
Due to our internal disarray, confrontation with a superpower could be catastrophic for us. Expressing any kind of consideration for those conducting terrorist activities in Afghanistan was not in our interests. Pakistan cannot remain untouched by any instability that ensues in Afghanistan. It is in our own interest that we should work for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
America has allayed our fears with regards to Indian involvement after the US drawdown in Afghanistan to a large extent. We have no right to stop India from development works in Afghanistan. The governments in Kabul and Delhi are that of two sovereign countries and no other can stop them from establishing bilateral relations. The fact that both of them are our neighbours means that good relations between them are also in our interest in the final calculus. The more trade there is between the two, the more we will benefit from it. The opening of these gates will also be beneficial for Central Asia. Thus, I would say that jointly facilitating the Afghan government is in the mutual interests of India and Pakistan.
If there will be peace in Afghanistan, then the trade routes to Central Asian markets will be open to us. Oil and gas will be more easily accessible from there and it will not only be cheaper than in the global market but will also be available in large quantities.
Good news is also expected from the conference in Istanbul. Over there, official and unofficial representatives of Afghanistan and the governmental representatives of Turkey and Pakistan will deliberate over the new formula whose outline has emerged in the recent negotiations between the US and Pakistan.
As far as I’ve been able to find out, the Taliban leadership has agreed to talks through a third party with the US. Pakistan has played a key role in this change of attitude. Pakistan’s gripe was that the America and the Karzai government wanted to bypass us and hold direct talks with the Taliban. They were also trying to break up the Taliban and get a large breakaway faction to join them and then impose a solution of their liking in Afghanistan.
This scheme of things would have been dangerous for Pakistan. For unfortunately, involvement the wars of superpowers in Afghanistan has embroiled us there on a large scale. Even today, there are over 3 million Afghan refugees. Any political solution will be destructive for Pakistan that does not include provisions for the settlement of these refugees and no solution can be worked out without the inclusion of Pakistan.
Moreover, a large majority of the Afghan Taliban is comprised of Pakhtuns. They have cultural, generational and blood ties with Pakistani Pakhtuns this side of the border. An agreement between just the Afghan Taliban and the US could create many problems for us. A specific problem could be that dissatisfied Taliban could set up centres in Pakistan to continue their activities and it is not difficult to do so in our tribal areas. Because they have deep ties with the locals over there. Similarly, any Afghan government which is weak and does not have the requisite writ to establish peace will also create problems for us.
The American administration now not only understands our problem but also recognises the fact that allowing Indian strategic interests to take root in Afghanistan could broaden the conflict horizons between Pakistan and India and extend it to within Afghanistan. This will make efforts for peace in the region unsuccessful and will initiate a period of bad blood that might not be stopped for decades. The encouraging thing is that India has said that it intends to confine its activities within Afghanistan to trade, development and cultural activities and will not pursue any anti-Pakistan activities from there. These things are not just said. We have not blamed India directly with regards to activities in Afghanistan and neither has India in any way agreed to being party to activities in Balochistan from Afghanistan. But our contention has been accepted informally and India statement about confining its activities indicates that after a peace deal in Afghanistan, India will stop fuelling insurgency in Pakistan. Reciprocally, we have also expressed the same intent. As per my reports, elements carrying out terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir are not being supported any more.
As far as the Taliban are concerned, it is being inferred from their words and actions that they no longer harbour plans about defeating the US completely and want to move towards some kind of negotiations with the US. The Americans can be given some assurances about their interests in certain areas of Afghanistan. The US has told the Taliban that elections will be conducted in Afghanistan as soon as a peace deal is agreed upon. The US will cooperate with the Karzai government and the Taliban in ensuring that these election are free and fair. It has also been guaranteed to them that whatever the results, the US will help in setting up the government and a consortium for Afghan progress and development will be set up with all regions fairly represented so that their are no hurdles in the path of rebuilding the country. Moreover, it has been said that effective and practical steps for the betterment of relations between India and Pakistan will be undertaken and the dialogue process on the Kashmir issue will be picked up from where it was left off.
All these things are no mean feats. The history of conflicts, tension and interference in other countries affairs runs deep. Interests that are dependant on conflict between the three nations have entrenched themselves in all three countries. Thus, it is obvious that moving towards a state of normalcy will encounter many hindrances. Pakistan and India also have to remember that total cooperation between the two countries is also not acceptable to the US and it will also keep up its interference in their matters. Thus, the leaderships of both the countries will have to tread with care while the process to establishing ties is underway and keep the US away as far as possible.
The writer is one of Pakistan’s most widely read columnists.