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Monday, August 19, 2013

Need for revisiting Pakistan’s Afghan policy

Pakistan’s reluctance to act decisively against the Taliban and/or other related targets inside Pakistan made Pakistan’s demands to have a strong say in the Afghan solution not trustworthy
Need for re visiting Pakistan’s Afghan Policy and Role in finding Peace

Published in two parts on 19 and 20 August 2013

Need for Re Visiting Pakistan's Afghan Policy

Pakistan tried to bargain a solution for Afghanistan that will ensure an upper hand to groups it considers friendly to it. Pakistan’s diplomacy relied on US plans/ needs to disengage militarily from Afghanistan. Pakistan also depended on the strength it gained from its location and history of the past two and half decades which gave Pakistan a real influence in Afghan affairs. Pakistan has been using that influence as a bargaining chip. If played appropriately, it could have got Pakistan a much better deal. However, it appears Pakistan has not just failed to gain much, but has lost in terms of domestic security; is facing a crisis of existential proportions, economic meltdown, and international and regional (almost) isolation with a very negative image. It’s getting late but if Pakistan is somehow able to make some quick adjustments in its demands and methods can still clinch a favorable deal. At least, it can minimize the loss.

When US announced its surge policy leading to a draw down, wrongly termed as withdrawal, Pakistan’s Afghan Policy managers initially jumped with excitement and started thinking a possible return of the pre 2011 Afghanistan, rather a little more amenable to its security interest perceptions. However, soon they realized, it appears that this may not be the case and we may witness a situation of serious violence in Afghanistan and real threat to Pakistan itself, from the Religious extremists. Observers of Pakistan’s Afghan Policy started noting a change in voices closer to the Establishment. Arguments started emanating from such quarters against US drawdown termed withdrawal without a final solution. The final solution, it was argued must be found through a negotiated settlement with Taliban; Taliban has differences with Al Qaeda; Taliban have become more mature; anecdotes of some mid level Taliban Commanders talking negatively of Al Qaeda emerged 2011 inwards. An increased level of violence in Afghanistan with some spectacular attacks to make global news headlines was also seen. Pakistan started a policy of pressurizing US for finding a solution to Afghanistan suiting its interests. The increased condemnation of Drones and closure of NATO supply route at different times were some tactical moves to establish the need for a deal in Afghanistan and centrality of Pakistan to any such deal. However, such policy added to the suspicion of Pakistan being soft on Taliban and US started looking more earnestly to find a solution san Pakistan, gradually considering Pakistan as part of the problem rather than solution.
The US expected the surge will weaken the Taliban to a level by Dec. 2014 that can be taken care of by the Afghans themselves, with international support from outside. Pakistan pursued a policy that told US this can only happen through it. US tried to push / convince Pakistan to help in achieving such ends. Pakistani demands for doing so, it seems were considered not worth Pakistan’s help. Additionally, Pakistan’s reluctance to act decisively against Taliban and /or other related targets inside Pakistan made Pakistan’s demands to have strong say in the Afghan solution as not trust worthy. The increased Talibanization inside Pakistan, partly a result of Pakistani policy of not decisively acting against them, strengthened perceptions that Pakistan itself may be over run by these extremist forces. Such a probability, even if remote was considered more dreadful due to Pakistan being a Nuclear Weapon State. This fear resulted in both mistrust but also in a policy of continued engagement of Pakistan.
With Dec. 2014 fast approaching, the urge to ensure the survival of the existing constitutional system in Afghanistan to deny it being reverted partly or fully to becoming a safe haven for global terrorists made US diplomacy pursue a policy of engaging all Afghan neighbors who shared the threat of Terrorism, including, China, Russia and more importantly, especially from Pakistan’s perspective India. Iran though at loggerheads with US everywhere else, was also tolerated in Afghanistan as US at minimum shared with Iran the mistrust of Taliban. While doing that, US continued to keep Pakistan engaged and urging it to cooperate more with it on Afghanistan. The US also started a policy of reaching out to the Taliban with the expectation of finding a negotiated settlement. Pakistan’s role became very crucial in such a dialogue.
This led to the Taliban office in Doha. Doha office was opened to provide a neutral place for negotiations between Taliban and the US. Pakistan played an important role in this whole process. However, despite initial fanfare and hype of expectations, it has become a non starter for a variety of reasons; the most important being the almost absence of the most important player from this process i.e. the Government of Afghanistan. Some ceremonial controversies apart, like the hosting of Taliban’s Afghanistan Flag on that office, Afghan government considered this whole process as Pakistan centered and undermining it. 
Chances of its revival and becoming a vehicle of any meaningful progress are decreasing with each passing day. Those interested in finding peace, or at minimum, starting a process of peace in Afghanistan must take a fresh start. That start must begin with looking at what has been missing in the different attempts so far. While all parties needs to have re visit, this essay will limit itself to some pointers for Pakistan, if for no other reason than for the constraints and limits of space, and audience.
Pakistan has a new government in place. The party that leads it, PMLN a Center Right party, despite accusations of having links with extremists, being soft on them, promises in its manifesto Civilian control of Intelligence Agencies and considers trade and interaction to be a better security policy than military. It also promises to improve relations with India. The new PM Mian Nawaz Sharif has on more than one occasion declared his government’s determination not to permit the use of Pakistan’s territory against anyone. This means he intends to bring some changes and not just tactical adjustments to Pakistan’s security/ foreign policy including Afghan Policy. If he really means it and has the capability to, then it should start showing very soon. Change is not visible yet.
Pakistan to be able to make the best of its location and significance to Afghanistan must start playing a role that really contributes to peace and is very visible.  The first step is the conceptual framework, i.e. how you view Terrorism and religious extremism. Where do you place it in your foreign policy/ security policy. Pakistani State has viewed Religious extremism as a good tool of policy finding it useful in India, Afghanistan as well as internally in East Pakistan now Bangladesh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The change must start there; Perceptions that Jihadis/Religious extremists/extremism can serve any foreign or domestic policy goal has to be abandoned. Thus an active policy of dismantling of the Jihadi complex has to commence. There must be a clean break to such mind set/ actions / policy, without any exceptions. In Afghanistan the policy of Good and bad Taliban must go, as starters. Then you follow up with more proactive policy.
Pakistan must start with proactive pursuance of a policy of resolving its disputes with the Government of Afghanistan. The first step should be a simple change, from asking for a friendly government in Afghanistan, Pakistan policy should be, wanting friendship with the State of Afghanistan. I must clearly refrain from supporting or opposing any Afghan party r ethnicity. This can start by changing this part of policy statements on various occasions. Pakistan must initiate action against terrorists, foreign or local, whether targeting Pakistan or others, especially Afghanistan. So, the policy of differentiating between good and bad Taliban must go and be seen as gone. A very significant trust building measure can be starting handing over Afghan Taliban it keeps to the Government of Afghanistan. If Pakistan wants to improve relations with India, then it should have no problem with Indo Afghan relations. Pakistan can permit the use of its territory for trade and other communications between its two neighbors. This step will be the on ground implementation of PMLn’s manifesto’s definition of security in trade and interaction.
Such preliminary proactive actions will place Pakistan in a very strong position in the emerging regional peace centered on peace in Afghanistan. It must be remembered that time is not in favor of Pakistan. Changing tracks after Dec. 2014 may be too late. US interests are much limited compared to Pakistan’s. US is looking for a peaceful and respectable way out, which it will get, with or without Pakistan. But the continuation of violence in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan will not only escalate in Afghanistan after US draw down. For Pakistan, continued religious terrorism is an existential issue, threatening it as we know it and many people want it to be.
Pakistani State is giving mixed signals. These mixed signals are more a result of confusion and lack of a clear policy than some conscious policy decision, good or bad. Calling it Pakistan’s double game is giving policy confusion and indecisiveness undeserved respectability  It appears that realization of the need to change is there; however, the existence of needed understanding and political will to go about is lacking. The first step in correcting that would be changing the sources of inputs in decision making, both political and intellectual. Bureaucracies uniformed or otherwise, have a tendency and expertise to present facts and available policy alternatives in such a manner that even the most intelligent and independent political boss selects the alternative it is intended to be selected. Then, in Pakistan exists a large number of so called independent security /foreign policy experts, mostly former diplomats, generals and journalists as well as some from academia, who actually promotes deep state views, with minor variations. They may genuinely think so, due to their training and lifelong association or at times may be encouraged to argue so, is irrelevant. The political leadership, if interested in controlling and making its own decisions to take policy initiative need not know all policy details, need not be experts, and they never so even in the most developed states. However, they must have the ability to identify independent minds, and opinion, which is the real quality of a democratic leader.

Time is moving. It has to be realized that agreement or no De. 2014 will arrive. The implications of that should not be lost on anyone. Pakistan faces a real existential challenge in the expected increased violence in the post Dec. 2014 Afghanistan situation, which will not remain limited to North of the Durand Line.

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