Afpak on the roll by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

When the idea of Afpak was created by American policy makers after the invasion of Afghanistan, there were fears in minds of Pakistanis and our policy makers that she is considered part of the battlefield. Many felt Pakistan may be treated like Cambodia during the Vietnam War in 1960s. And it was probably from this fear emanated Pakistani policy that raised some eye brows. But now it seems Afpak may become a positive force in the region due to fast changing diplomatic and strategic position of various stakeholders. Before we tackle this question let us very briefly look at the foreign policy doctrine of the two super powers. America pursues its policy based on the concept that there are no permanent friends only interests. China, a very good friend and mentor said it so brilliantly, has no friends just interests. There is a fine difference in these two approaches which unfortunately is not the subject today so I hope you will understand it at the end of this article. We should look at the emerging afpak situation through a process which is what has changed; what are the interests of each player; what has to be achieved; and how can these interest be brought together on one solution acceptable to all. It is difficult to do justice to all these in one article but let me try to give a summarized version of it.

What has changed? There are two dynamics of it. Geopolitical and leadership change. Geopolitically Ukraine as evolved into a full-fledged conflict of interest between West led by Europe and Russia. It is reminding people of centuries old rivalries in the West. Europe wants to resolve it quickly but USA has been breathing on their neck to let the conflict continue until maximum strategic objectives are achieved. Another geopolitical issue that needs attention of world powers is the rise of Islamic State in Middle East. According to an American publication the area and number of people under control of IS has doubled since American alliance started their air strikes. How could that be? This is another complex question but this dynamic is putting pressure on West to keep its focus on it so they can’t be distracted in minor conflicts like Afghanistan. The Chinese aggressive position that started after the release of nine dashed line, in South China seas, also require American attention to support its long term allies in the pacific region and especially since America wants to turn its back on Atlantic and focus more on pacific. These are three major geopolitical changes that has an effect on their long term position in Afghanistan and they are now more attentive to Pakistani and Afghan suggestions.

The other change is the change in leadership in the countries of South Asia. In Afghanistan there is a new President who has a long term relationship with America as an economic consultant and is more interested in peace, stability and economic progress. In Pakistan there is emergence of first peaceful transfer of power through political process and installation of a new army chief and DG ISI. This civil and political team seems to be on the same page now after the terrible terrorist attack on Peshawar school although operation Zarb-e-Azb was already in place before it happened. In India there is the rise of extreme right which is creating worries in Western capital and their ambitions needs to be checked for the stable balance of power in South Asia. In Iran a moderate President wants to get over the nuclear sanctions regime to play their well-deserved role in the region. In China President Xi Jinping would not allow influence of a foreign power in its own backyard and wants to play a more dominant role in infrastructure and economic development of the region.

Next question what is the interest of each of these players? Afghan government wants respect of their sovereignty, security of its people, economic progress and political reconciliation between all factions. Afghan Taliban are now accepted a political entity, by both USA and China, which wants withdrawal of foreign forces, respect for their independence, acceptance of Islamic way of life, centralized power and economic progress. Pakistan would like peace and stability in the region; recognition and safeguarding of its strategic interest in the region; and an opportunity to participate in the economic rebuilding in the region. Iran is worried about emergence of hostile regimes on its two borders as they did not had good relations with Taliban. The rise of IS is a major concern for Iran and it would want Afghan solution quickly that guarantees its economic interests in Central Asia and security of its eastern borders with Afghanistan. China is concerned about support for Eastern Turkmenistan Movement that was provided by Al-Qaeda during the time of Taliban regime. China is willing and eager to participate in the economic rebuilding of Afghanistan. It will pursue the containment of four evils presented by President Xi which are terrorism, extremism, fundamentalism and separatism without committing any military to achieve that objective. America wants a guarantee that Afghanistan will no longer be used as a safe haven for international terrorism and its strategic interests will be ensured in Central Asia. India may get a piece of the pie in the form of an economic agreement to connect Iran, India, Afghanistan with the Northern Corridor of Chinese new silk route going through Central Asia via Russia to Europe. India will also be provided guarantees for its energy security that is offered by Central Asia. India will probably not be offered any direct security role because of the legitimate concerns of Pakistan.

What has to be achieved? The most important objective to achieve is the political reconciliation among various political entities in Afghanistan. One possible option could be that the next parliamentary elections in Afghanistan should be for a constituent assembly as Taliban refuse to accept the current constitution. Taliban controlled regions may be accepted as legitimate governments until drafting of the new constitution and emergence of a government based on it. Americans have an option to leave by 2017 which might be offered if Taliban guarantee that there will be no fighting after this withdrawal. Taliban has to also offer guarantees that Afghanistan will not be used for international terrorism and will be bound by an international treaty in this regard which is co-sponsored by China and USA. Pakistan, Iran and other neighbors can be given responsibility to ensure security in their adjacent border areas by working in close cooperation with Afghan National Army and this effort is sponsored through resource contribution by Europe, China, USA and Japan. To uplift the economy the new infrastructure bank sponsored by China can provide necessary funding as well as development of economic zones with favorable export tariff by all major markets. Afghanistan can also be offered to earn transit fees from goods and energy passing through its lands. Pakistan can provide training of military; bureaucracy; and digitization of citizen data. Pakistan can also provide help in establishing education institutes; healthcare facilities; and skilled labor for industries.

How can all this be achieved? Some years ago Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) proposed a 6 plus 2 format to resolve the Afghan issue. That included six neighbors of Afghanistan (China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan) plus Russia and USA. This includes all the key players that have been outlined by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in his presentation of a concentric circle of influence in recent summits. Things are moving in this direction and we hope that no surprise will happen to derail the process. Peace and stability seems to be returning to the region as new balance of power is in the making and we should all pray that it succeeds.

Pakistan has a major role to play in the emergence of new South Asia. We hope our civil and military leaders will work in unison and good understanding of what has to be achieved. We can’t let this moment pass us.

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