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February 14, 2018

Basics of rapprochement


February 14, 2018

Does it surprise that the two-day talks held in Islamabad last week as part of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) ended miserably?

As embarrassed statements were made regarding the viability of future talks and vague unnamed agreements, any hopes of the second round of APAPPS yielding a productive outcome were dashed. While it is better to pursue engagement, a middle ground needs to be established by both sides. But at present, there is too much acrimony to even allow the requisite flexibility to adopt a mutual stance to achieve security objectives. This lockdown in relations is likely to remain unless there is an effort at the very top to sidestep these contentions. The onus for this is on both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The deterioration in relations over the years has now reached a record low. Moreover, the blame for the recent spate of deadly attacks in Afghanistan is being laid on Pakistan. But how much truth do the allegations hold? The key charge against Pakistan is that it provides safe havens and also some covert logistical and material support to Afghan insurgents, especially the Haqqani group. Washington and Kabul claim that Pakistan has been abetting the Haqqanis and the Taliban – claims which Islamabad refutes.

In turn, Pakistan demands that its grievances, pertaining to anti-state indigenous insurgents present across the Durand Line and Indian intelligence activities being carried out from bases in Afghanistan, be redressed. The back and forth exchange of retorts between the two has begun to resemble an absurd theatrical show.

So what can be the solution? Islamabad has maintained that controlling cross-border movement and the repatriation of Afghan refugees would significantly help, as these are the factors that help insurgents gain key support and access to safer areas in Pakistan. If we are to consider fencing the 2,300km-long and porous border – which Afghanistan protests in line with its contestation of the demarcation defined by the Durand Line – then that is an ongoing project, to be completed in phases. Considering the second issue, let us suppose that all the Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan are repatriated and their infrastructure dismantled, will that cut off the lifeline of the Afghan insurgency? More importantly, would that be enough to force the Haqqanis and the Taliban to negotiate with Kabul on its terms?

The argument put forth by Pakistan is that it does not support the Afghan insurgents either materially or logistically and any support they derive is from embedded elements within the refugee villages. This is a simplistic spin on a very complex situation. Even if the state had zero contact with the insurgents, the ethno-tribal links between the Pakhtuns on both sides of the border are a reality.

In reality, Pakistan’s relations with the insurgents are pivotal in achieving a political solution to the Afghan conflict. However, the relations are also a source of contention raising suspicions about Pakistan’s contacts with the Afghan insurgents. This – for Kabul and Washington – translates into supporting the destabilisation of the regime and thwarting the peace process. The common perception is that the strategic depth doctrine that was key in shaping Pakistan’s foreign policy apparently still dictates blind adherence. And, thus, requires support for any faction opposing an Afghan government, which is perceived to be hostile to Pakistan. But the way our national and regional geopolitical and security considerations have evolved, believing that Pakistan’s foreign and security policy is hostage to the previous policy diktat is something that needs an urgent review.

The regional dynamics vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan have not been conducive for Pakistan lately; as is evident in their hostile stance against each other. But how much is Pakistan prepared to concede to salvage its ties with Kabul? If incontrovertible evidence of the recent terror attacks in Kabul being perpetrated in Pakistan has been found it needs to be shared. But without intelligence cooperation and some degree of trust even this will prove futile unless both sides make serious efforts. It is important that contentious factors including Pakistan’s alleged role in helping the insurgents must be addressed first. Kabul and Washington should share intelligence of the alleged ‘safe havens’ and engage in reviving cooperation.

Kabul needs to be cognisant of the corrosive effect of its failure to acknowledge or accommodate the reasons behind the insurgency. The situation is getting worse as many other factions, Daesh included have – for their own vested interests – joined the bandwagon of fighting foreign forces. It portends a more complex and protracted conflict. It is something no one wants, as destabilisation in Afghanistan could only have an adverse impact in Pakistan. Pakistan’s concerns about Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan and India’s alleged role in destabilisation efforts need to be taken seriously to mend relations between the two neighbours.

The writer is a former deputy opinion

editor at Gulf News, Dubai.

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