Monday, December 1, 2014
President Ashraf Ghani and regional peace
After a historic and internationally elections, controversies, apprehensions, and compromises, Ashraf Ghani the workaholic Ivy League Professor is in charge of affairs in Afghanistan as its President. His predecessor, Karzai after remaining controversial on many counts as President, left office with dignity and respect. The transfer of power that appeared very tumultuous then looks now to have been smooth and strengthening democracy. Ashraf Ghani has been quick to assert his authority as President of his war torn country. He seems to be moving fast; charting new avenues, ideas and policies for peace and development, but questions remain where and will he be able to?
His visits and policy pronouncements has given basis for re thinking and hopes for better future for the whole region from Central Asia to Pakistan and India, including Iran connected through a stable Afghanistan. This new region of peace, economic and human development will have China, Russia, USA and Europe as partners in progress. President Ashraf Ghani has put under serious pressure the traditional understanding of approaches to peace.
Traditionally, most argued, the road to peace in Afghanistan and the region passes through reconciliation between India and Pakistan. President Ghani has challenged that and pursuing a policy, which will lead the road to peaceful region and perhaps reconciliation between India and Pakistan through a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. Traditional understanding argued that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan will always be held in check by the Durand Line issue; he wants both to move beyond it. Traditional approach centered on main role of United States in the region with China watching from the periphery. He is building on increased Chinese interest and willingness to play a more active role in Afghanistan and thus in the region.
The traditional understanding of peace in Afghanistan being dependent on reconciliation between India and Pakistan was based on the two countries competing to deny each other influence in Afghanistan. One accused the other and vice versa, with some element of truth, of using Afghan soil against its interests. President Ashraf Ghani has told both, India and Pakistan to take their quarrels elsewhere and has declared a strong resolve not to allow either to use Afghan territory against each other. India and Pakistan will not just walk away but a stable Afghanistan will minimize and gradually eliminate space for them to fight inside Afghanistan. The decrease in spaces to fight of itself will not reconcile Pakistan and India, but by decreasing, the instances of competition along with increased Chinese role will help.
His position on Durand Line is more forward looking and modernist for most South Asian analysts and policy makers still stuck in the era of State centric International Relations. Its an era of loose borders, of economies cutting across borders, of cooperative borders that bring people together rather than separate them. Technology and economics are taking human beings separated by soverign territorial state to an era of collaboration and interdependence. President Ashraf Ghani has shown an understanding of changing international system. States are moving beyond territorial and boundary disputes rather than resolving them. The future of the region as huge flourishing democratic and economically integrated space will make State Boundaries more administrative issues than security concerns.
The Chinese role in the region can have a positive effect and strengthen President Ashraf Ghani’s approach to the region. China has historical strong relations with Pakistan and it has developed quite good relations with India in the recent past. With Afghanistan, it has quietly developed a strong economic basis for good relations. China shares with Afghanistan an interest in ensuring the elimination of terrorist threat from the region, an interest to which both India and Pakistan cannot be averse. China can allay Pakistan’s fears about use of Afghan territory against its interests. China being engaged with India along with Russia as part of tripartite mutual consultations on Afghanistan beyond 2014, can also address Indian concerns. Its more active role is not, as seen by many, at the expense of US interests in the region.
The key to peaceful progressive and democratic future region lies in a stable Afghanistan. That stability has become increasingly likely, due to the increased legitimacy of existing constitutional order in Afghanistan as a result of relatively free and fair elections and peaceful transfer of power; the increased Chinese role; and the decision of United States to extend US armed role in Afghanistan by one year. Pakistan’s response also appears to be positive. This appearance of positivity will be tested and watched closely, even if many are praising Zarb e Azb and Khyber One.
Pakistan’s ability to further its positive response to changes in its neighborhood also depends on its internal political stability. One needs to be cautiously optimistic as new challenges are emerging in the shape of enemies of peace re positioning and re shaping themselves. The increasing attractiveness of ‘Islamic State’ (IS), to whole groups’ extremists and parts of them are alarming and can only be ignored at the expense of future accusations of complacency. Is the more active Chinese role and the changes in Afghanistan the needed changes in the external ‘structural imperatives’ of Pakistan and India that may push them for change is a question that one can answer in affirmative with caution, given the very long strong history, mind set and the strategic cultures based on it.