Regional stability and way forward with Afghanistan

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The Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) is the result of considerable multi-tier interaction between Afghanistan and Pakistan and it indicates that President Ashraf Ghani wants to work with Pakistan for peace in his country in spite of all the ups and downs, misunderstandings and miscalculations and suspicions that have dogged Afghanistan Pakistan relations. And it also indicates that Pakistan remains committed to an Afghan owned and Afghan driven peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. More importantly the two countries are acting to ensure that third countries and forces with their own agendas do not exploit difficulties in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations for their own ends– and even more important for both countries is the need to end the cycle of violence that is leading to needless loss of lives. Afghanistan has been wracked by horrendous terrorist attacks since the start of the voter registration process for the elections in October. Pakistan’s Baluchistan province has seen externally sponsored sectarian violence as it moves towards its own elections.

Given the multiplicity of interests involved there may be attempts to sow discord and disrupt the progress and implementation of the APAPPS. This should be expected and both countries need to make sure that their interaction heralds a new beginning and transcends episodes and events. In fact, a joint mechanism for immediate consultation and action after any disruptive violence would be a good step in APAPPS implementation. The National Security Advisers on both sides are in the driving seats and much depends on the chemistry between them and the level of trust that they can create. They need the full support of their governments and institutions as they move forward.

In the 17th year of US involvement in Afghanistan the end game remains as elusive as ever and with that the uncertainty continues. It is this uncertainty that drives hedging policies that the US sees as duplicity. This also leads to speculations about US motives that fuel public opinion in this age of media and social media power. What does the US want is the question most frequently asked? Does it want to sustain the fluid situation? If its presence in Afghanistan is to be for an indeterminate period, then is it to have a permanent base to over watch Pakistan and exploit its internal situation for coercion? Is it to destabilize the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that its ally, and Pakistan’s foe, India opposes? Or is it as some fear to control Pakistan’s nukes when required? Much of this speculation would die down if there was clarity in the US approach and the gap with Pakistan over Afghanistan would reduce sharply ending regional warfare. As it is Pakistan feels that even if it were to capitulate and agree to all US demands there is no guarantee that there will not be more and harsher demands and pressures. The US may see Pakistan as a hindrance to peace but it must also see it as significantly important for peace.

If the US sees the APAPPS as window of opportunity and actually a new beginning, then it needs to support it to the hilt. This means reviewing its punitive, coercive and multi-pressure policy for Pakistan. The US should also support Pakistan’s efforts to fortify its western border, help in the repatriation of Afghan refugees, assure Pakistan that it will act to eliminate the threat to Pakistan from its west and resume aid once it sees Pakistan delivering on the peace effort in Afghanistan. There is a need to understand that the Afghan Taliban will continue their struggle as long as the US is in Afghanistan– but a totally militarized policy in Afghanistan, relying on drone strikes and air power, may not lead to containment and sidelining of the threat. A planned and orchestrated political and incentives inclusive approach may work better. The APAPPS could help implement such a strategy.

Pakistan in its own interest has acted with determination and resolve to clear its FATA and western border areas. Pakistan’s military is one of the few militaries in the world that have registered such success against the terrorist threat. Besides the rehabilitation and rebuilding work that the military is undertaking in the cleared areas there is a political process underway to mainstream the FATA and give it a good legal and administrative framework. Pakistan is also engaged in resolving ethnic based grievances of the people in that region and working to ensure that these are not externally and politically exploited. Pakistan’s internal political scene may seem chaotic but the thrust lines are clear—a long drawn out judicial process is nearing an end, and as the elected government ends its tenure in two weeks, an interim government will take over and the countdown to elections and a new government will start.

For far too long Pakistan’s internal security policy has been overly militarized because of a lack of institutional capacity. Even now the military is carrying out country wide counter terror operations and has largely broken the criminal-political terrorist links. The military is also carrying out trials of hard core terrorists that the government identifies. Going by the statements of political leaders Pakistan can expect its next government to tackle corruption, depoliticize the institutions responsible for administration and law and order and focus on governance, human security and human resource development. Already the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and the Counter Terrorism Department (CTTD) are showing promise and potential. The surest way for an elected government to assert itself as the dominant force is to gain credibility through effective governance by teams selected on merit and policies that are seen to be delivering. While all this moves on a positive trajectory the Pakistanis see the military in an over-watch and vigilant role exercising restraint and patience and maturity even in the face of transitory provocations that may seem earth shaking but actually are just hiccups in the larger context– and need to be treated as such. National interest must however reign supreme—on this there can be no compromise because internal stability is vital for positive external interaction.

SPEARHEAD RESEARCH