There has been an escalation of friction in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the wake of the attacks within Pakistan. Pakistan gave Afghanistan a list of over 70 to be handed over. ‘And the group most linked to last week’s bombings, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, is an outgrowth of the Pakistani Taliban, which was driven into Afghanistan by a massive Pakistan army operation in 2015. Once the group had relocated, some members split off and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, a radical Sunni militia. Those militants have overrun several Afghan border districts, despite repeated efforts by Afghan forces to push them out, and they have claimed the bombing of several Shiite mosques in Kabul, the Afghan capital.’ (Pamela Constable February 21, 2017)
Pakistan closed border with Afghanistan as a result of these ongoing attacks. Contrary to opinion by some to separate political and security issues from trade-related activities- both are inter linked. If opening borders means attacks on Pakistan it becomes self-defeating to take this step for trade purposes. “Pakistan sent a proposed draft on “preferential trade agreement” to Kabul several years ago but it has since been awaiting approval by the Afghan National Security Council, making it difficult for his government to meet traders’ demands for separating economics from security issues.” (Voice of America March 15, 2017)
Afghanistan and Pakistan have exchanged lists of wanted terrorists in a high level meeting arranged by UK. Afghanistan has suggested having a third party to help and to verify and to monitor the process Talks, diplomacy, more talks and more diplomacy are a positive route. However sans actions this becomes just more of the same. International relations must be based on national interests. There are no permanent friends or permanent enemies.
There is a question as to how much Afghanistan can actually do to curtail her lands from being used against Pakistan. It is a fact that 19 districts within Afghanistan are ruled by Taliban. It is a fact that there is an on-going war situation and struggle between Kabul and Taliban in other districts. ‘It is a fact that Afghan government “control or influence” decreased to 65.6 percent by the end of May from 70.5 percent last year, based on data provided by US forces in Afghanistan.’ (Al Jazeera 24 June 2017) The Long War Journal believes that the US military’s assessment of the state of play in Afghanistan’s districts is flawed. A study by The Long War Journal estimates the Taliban controls 42 Afghan districts and contests (or influences) another 55. (November 2, 2016)
Other nations have a physical presence in Afghanistan and upon her politics, Afghanistan is constrained to tailor her policies accordingly. One recent example is of Afghanistan refusing to accept $500 million in aid from Pakistan in 2016, pledged in the Brussels Conference in Europe by Pakistan.
Another looming possibility is of Russian intervention in Afghanistan. ‘If Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Taliban continued to gain strength, it could tempt Russia to stage a Syrian-style intervention, this time on the pretext of protecting its “backyard” in Central Asia.’ (The Telegraph March 5, 2017)
There is space for other regional nations to try and help Afghanistan stabilize. China is one. India and Afghanistan have a history of good relations- India if she wants regional peace, should play a positive role in Afghanistan with USA.
With a change of guard in US with Trump as President, one hopes traditional moulds may be broken to move Afghanistan towards better stability. ‘The security dilemma of both India and Pakistan is a major issue that is directly affecting the stability of Afghanistan. India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have to work in a cooperative framework so that the region can prosper, which will add to the economic development, legitimacy of the government, and security of Afghanistan, and this in return will narrow down the space for insurgency in Afghanistan.’(Foreign Policy Journal Dec 18, 2012)
Too many stakeholders in Afghanistan become an issue in itself and a hurdle in way of her government to deliver on her promises. From Taliban militants who want to overrun the existing government to the warlords wanting to exact their pound of flesh to other outfits like ISIS etc and the presence of foreign powers on ground or in other mix of efforts to achieve regional superiority all add up to weakening Afghanistan.
This is a complex scenario and US with boots on ground with the current government need to navigate very cleverly to avoid a situation that can be disastrous. It’s not an easy task by a long shot.
In my Op Ed in Pakistan Today dated July 4, 2016 I had quoted Wajid Shamsul Hasan, which is appropriate to the current subject , “Pakistan needs to get out of its in-depth strategic cliché vis-à-vis Afghanistan that has at long last proved to be neither here nor there. How fallacious it was can be seen by the fact that first the Taliban terrorists used Pakistan as their strategic depth and now India has found its strategic depth in Afghanistan to negate Pakistan’s regional importance.”
If US decides to increase troops in Afghanistan the question that arises is how exactly will this increase help Afghanistan? Post Trump election he and the Afghan President had discussed Afghanistan, US military measures there and Pakistan’s safe havens for Taliban. Afghanistan has the potential to build upon its mining sector. Another issue that came under discussion.
As per a report by Washington Post, “Eventually, Trump will have to confront bigger questions about the United States’ long-term plans for Afghanistan and its long-troubled relationship with Pakistan, an unstable nuclear power where key elements of the Taliban find shelter.” (January 18)
Uri Dubinin, Professor of the Department of Diplomacy of MGIMO-University of the RF MFA, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation defines the role of diplomacy beautifully, “What is the art of diplomacy? While the art of war lies in the ability to claim victory through the force of arms, the art of diplomacy aims to achieve the goals set through peaceful means. It is, therefore, the antithesis of using force to solve international problems. In the art of diplomacy, it is the international community’s accumulated experience that serves as a weapon, as does – and herein lies the essence of it – an innovative, creative approach to problems arising. It is on the basis of this that one acts to provide a solution.”