The writer is an economist, anchor, analyst and the President of all Pakistan Private Schools’ Federation president@Pakistan privateschools.com
Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that the ruling PTI had changed Pakistan’s decades-long policy of pushing for strategic depth in Afghanistan to ensure that there was a friendly government there. There is a belief that Pakistan’s support to Afghan Pashtuns is aimed at finding a counterweight to the nationalists who interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs and challenge the legality of the border. Those Pashtuns who receive support from Pakistan will give in to the Pakistani point of view concerning the border issue among other things. Afghanistan has been mired in chaos and misery over the past 20 years. The war has killed at least 100,000 civilians and left the country’s political and economic systems in dire straits. The US wanted to build a new, more palatable Afghanistan to American self-interest, but it did not devote enough resources to rebuilding Afghanistan. Only with its troops in the country, the US only maintained a semblance of stability in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan is expected to complete much before the September 11, 2021 deadline. Over the past two decades, US troops and those of its allies were sent to Afghanistan to support Afghanistan’s public security and during this process, it tried to cultivate a pro-America regime, but this was totally a failure. The withdrawal of troops at this time shows that the US has realized its Afghan policy is a failure. At the same time, it also wants to move more resources to the Western Pacific region and focus on strategic competition with China. In comparison to irresponsible US deeds, China underlines that the Afghan issue can only be resolved by political means and the future of Afghanistan should be left in the hands of the Afghan people. Afghan Taliban fighters have captured four more districts from government forces in the past 24 hours amid an escalation in fighting across the country. The Taliban wanted to show their might and seek concessions on the negotiations when the stalled intra-Afghan peace talks resume. Since last month, at least seven other districts have also fallen to the Taliban, two of
them close to the capital city, Kabul, in the Maidan Wardak province. It comes after the US began withdrawing its remaining troops from the war-torn state. In its annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report released in February, the UN’s human rights agency and its assistance mission in the country said that there was a disturbing spike in civilian deaths, with 3,035 fatalities and 5,785 injuries registered in 2020. The Taliban have carried out a string of attacks near vulnerable provincial capitals across Afghanistan since May 1, when the withdrawal process for the nearly 3,000 US-led foreign troops began. It has resulted in an uptick in violence, which is a sign that the Taliban is assessing the government’s capacity to safeguard the country once the withdrawal process is completed.
Islamabad have assessed that at this stage the US wants a safe and respectable withdrawal without a perception of defeat, and a broad-based political settlement in Kabul leading to an inclusive government. The US has about twenty bases in the Middle East region and want to retain some foothold in the region. It is believed that 50 per cent of the area of Afghanistan is currently under the control of the Taliban, 30 per cent under control government and the remaining 20 per cent is hotly contested between the two. Taliban are now an internationally recognised entity. All countries in the region are therefore trying to establish some form of relations with them realising that they will be major players in any future Afghan set-up. Moreover, the Taliban are believed to have around one hundred thousand trained fighters in their ranks. They have also formed a shadow government.The peace talks have hit an impasse for a number of reasons that Taliban insist all their seven thousand prisoners should be released but the Afghan government says it will not order the release till the Taliban reduce the level of violence. Taliban say they do not want US surveillance aircraft to be flying over their territory but the US maintains these flights will continue. The US says Taliban should break all ties with Al-Qaeda etc and agree to become part of a future Afghan government but the Taliban have flatly refused to participate in any such set-up with President Ashraf Ghani. The fear is that if a negotiated settlement is not reached between the Afghan government and the Taliban – and the indications are not too promising so far – then there are chances that Afghanistan could slide into yet another civil war. This would have an adverse impact on the region and especially on Pakistan. A fresh influx of refugees into Pakistan. This will exacerbate the burden that Pakistan is already bearing due to the very large refugee presence in the country. A civil war in Afghanistan could have a spillover effect and regenerate violence and militancy in the border areas including
the erstwhile FATA region as well as in Balochistan. There are genuine fears that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has found shelter on Afghan soil, could gain fresh traction and attempt to unleash terror on Pakistani soil. It is a delicate time and the government wants to build a domestic consensus on its policy on Afghanistan. However, this is easier said than done in the politically polarised environment as it exists today. If the situation worsens after the withdrawal of US troops, Pakistan may face a volatile situation that will have a direct impact on all aspects of life, including politics. It may be prudent for the government, and for the establishment that continues to have the dominant role in policy on Afghanistan, to make an extra effort to bring all political stakeholders on board and forge a consensus – howsoever loose – on the core policy to deal with the swiftly evolving situation across the western border. This is a lesson worth learning from the history of the past four decades.
In these circumstances, PM Imran has outlined a new approach that heralds a reevaluation of Pakistan’s strategic depth policy that has governed our relations with Afghanistan and India. As the deadline for foreign troops’ complete withdrawal from Afghanistan is just a couple of months away, a political settlement may reduce the risk of a continuing civil war that has ravaged Afghanistan for over four decades now. When the foreign troops leave later this year, for the first time in 20 years Afghanistan will be on its own to tackle all its domestic issues including that of a new government formation. In these circumstances, PM Imran has outlined a new approach that heralds a reevaluation of Pakistan’s strategic depth policy that has governed our relations with Afghanistan and India. As the deadline for foreign troops’ complete withdrawal from Afghanistan is just a couple of months away, a political settlement may reduce the risk of a continuing civil war that has ravaged Afghanistan for over four decades now. When the foreign troops leave later this year, for the first time in 20 years Afghanistan will be on its own to tackle all its domestic issues including that of a new government formation. The people of Afghanistan are going through a lot of fear about what may lie in the near future for them in the wake of an impending Taliban rule Even though the Taliban say they have changed, there is fear that a Taliban rule would have consequences for vulnerable groups in the country, including women and minorities. In the same way, civil war or massive unrest and uncertainty in the country would lead to Afghans crossing the border into Pakistan. This would mean immense economic pressure on Pakistan, which is already struggling to cope with a faltering economy left weaker as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.The current Afghan situation has drawn great attention from the international community. The peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Afghanistan should form inclusive political arrangements to make sure that all ethnic groups and parties can participate in political life in the future and enjoy equal political rights. The Afghan national governance structure in the future should conform to the country’s unique national conditions and development needs, and should not simply copy foreign models. The international community should make due contribution to the final resolution of the Afghan issue, and should also play its due role for the long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been contributing its share to promote a peace deal for a future dispensation, but the Taliban seem to be in no mood to budge an inch. A national government in Afghanistan has been suggested. The refusal of the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government makes this difficult. It is also understood that President Ashraf Ghani is unwilling to make way for such a setup. Solutions need to be thought out. And the US, which in part created the crisis with its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and its subsequent inability to manage the situation in the country, must play a role. It is now also clear that the US wants to exit from Afghanistan as quickly as possible, regardless of what chaos is left behind, and this is a disturbing situation for every nation in the region, as well as for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In this regard, PM Imran Khan’s assertion that Pakistan wants to avoid intervention and will respect whichever government the Afghan people elect to power sounds like an extremely sensible strategy and is a welcome move. Pakistan stands ready to continue working with regional countries and the international community to move the peace and reconciliation process forward, and help Afghanistan realize peace and stability at an early date. Indeed a peaceful Afganistan means peace in Pakistan.