THE vision of shared regional prosperity undoubtedly is linked to peace and security in the region, particularly Afghanistan, which has become the epicenter of terrorism with a spillover effect on the neighbouring countries including Pakistan. Viewed in that context the renewal of the dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan is a welcome development because dialogue and continued engagement are the essential ingredients in regards to resolving conflicts and removing kinks in relations between the states.
For Pakistan, which has suffered the most in the war against terrorism and is still grappling to overcome it, peace in Afghanistan is utmost necessary to ensure peace within its own territory. It is the realisation of this reality which underlines the efforts made and being made by Pakistan to promote process of Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation in that war-torn country and also strengthens her credentials as an honest partner in the war against terror, notwithstanding the thinking permeating in the US administration to the contrary. The visit of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi to Afghanistan on the invitation of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani surely reflects that commitment and honesty of purpose.
Reportedly the two leaders discussed the whole range of bilateral relations including peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, return of Afghan refugees, regional connectivity and bilateral trade. It was agreed between the two sides that peace, prosperity and stability of the two countries were interlinked and they also reaffirmed their commitment to regional connectivity as they had done in Herat on 23rd February 2018 while jointly inaugurating the entry of TAPI Gas Pipeline from Turkmenistan into Afghanistan. The other outcomes of the bilateral parleys were: agreement for reviving Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) which provided a broad-based and structured engagement on all issues of mutual interests; early convening of the Joint Economic Commission to take forward planning and implementation of key rail, road, gas pipeline and energy projects that would integrate Pakistan and Afghanistan with Central Asia; moving forward on Chaman-Kandahar-Herat railway line, Peshawar-Kabul Motorway and other connectivity projects which can help realize the tremendous potential of South and Central Asian Regions by providing shortest access through the sea ports of Gwadar and Karachi; emphasis on early completion of TAPI and CASA-1000 projects; renewing the call to the Taliban to respond positively to the peace offer and to join the peace process without delay; acknowledgement by the two leaders that terrorism was a common enemy and threat and the need for not allowing their soils to be used for anti-state activities against each other. Perhaps the most important commonality of views was on the point that the Afghan conflict could not be resolved through military might and the political solution was the best way forward. That was exactly Pakistan’s response to the new policy announced by President Trump on Afghanistan and South Asia. Afghanistan now endorsing this stance has actually made a departure from its earlier reaction when it fully agreed with the new Trump initiative.
The US attempts to destabilise the region are actually an important ingredient of its global politics whereby it desires to obstruct China’s emergence as number one economic and military power in the world
Although no major break-through occurred but the very fact that the two-sides recognised the importance of dialogue to resolve the contentious issues, is a very positive move. We have seen similar initiatives in the past as well but unfortunately no credible headway could be made to achieve the desired objectives and the relations between the countries have remained mired in an ambience of mistrust and mutual blame-game.
No person in his right mind would take an issue with the fact that peace in Pakistan is linked to peace in Afghanistan and the former would be the last country to wish the continuation of conflict in the latter. Peace in Afghanistan is also crucial to regional connectivity and the success of CPEC in which Pakistan has the highest stakes. Any view to the contrary is a negation of the ground realities. The US suspicion regarding Pakistan reflects her inability to understand the complexities of the situation and its impulsive streak to find a fall guy for its failures in Afghanistan even after sixteen years of war that has cost trillions of dollars and innumerable casualties.
Though Afghanistan and Pakistan have an abiding interest in ending the war in Afghanistan and regard terrorism as the common enemy, unfortunately the conflict in Afghanistan and peace in the region were not possible until and unless the US not only realised and acknowledged the ground realities but also changed its position accordingly.
The reality is that the government in Afghanistan is not in a position to take any major decision without approval from the US. The policy announced by Trump on Afghanistan and South Asia is a perfect recipe for aggravating the conflict as is already evident from the increased incidents of terrorism in that country since the announcement of the new policy. Much therefore depends on change in the US policy and the sincerity of purpose in finding an amicable and lasting solution to the Afghan conundrum.
Having said that it is my considered view that the US is not sincere in finding a solution to the Afghan war and it would not leave the country, notwithstanding her expressed commitment to do so. It would keep the situation in Afghanistan fluid to foment instability in the region for achieving its strategic interests. The appearance of IS in Afghanistan, many including the former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai believe, has the blessings of the US.
It has found an ally in India to further her strategic interests and checking the burgeoning influence of the Chinese in the region and beyond. Therefore peace in the region does not suit her. In connivance with India it would go to any extent to sabotage CPEC which it considers as a major initiative that could help China in becoming number one in the world in the near future.
The portents for peace in the region, therefore, are not very encouraging. We could very well see the re-emergence of the cold war era as is indicated by the recent tit for tat expulsion of the diplomatic staff by US and its allies and Russia with all its negative repercussion for the region. The Trump initiated trade war with China is yet another indicator for the things to come. In the building scenario the best way for Pakistan to protect its strategic and economic interests would be to align itself (not joining in any formal pact) with the countries of the region like Russia, China and Iran and strengthening its role in the SCO. Pakistan’s belongs to this region and its security and prosperity are inextricably linked with this region.