Pak-Afghan : a framework for cooperation

The fate of a huge chunk of the Asian region-including  Pakistan-appears to be at a crossroads- leading either towards salvation or a repetition of chaos. One of the most crucial steps towards a positive path- is mending Afghanistan. However, the state is mired in multifaceted wars; positioning itself as perhaps one of the murkiest regions to ‘see through’.  The grave internal security crises have also largely veiled Afghanistan from the rest of the world; which further , makes most descriptions of Afghanistan a matter of subjectivity. Disparities of views are quite evident, especially in regards to the country’s internal dynamics. A dominant part of its internal crises are a result of varying of external agendas; But not in entirety.  Because -as a chain reaction- the internal crises, conflicts and grievances appear to have taken multiple forms.

There seem to be positive prospects for Afghanistan -as a result of closer working relations with Pakistan, but after a point , certain matters fall under the jurisdiction of the Afghan government to amend. The final resolve therefore becomes- truly placing the will of the Afghan people above all , unifying the political discord , setting  sovereign national goals and discarding proxies.

The two core areas which could benefit Afghanistan by collaborating with Pakistan  are– economic-political improvement and support for rooting out ‘terror groups’ – these in  could enhance  socio-economic conditions and sideline several religio-ethnic conflicts.

Economic-political improvement:

The Afghan foreign ministers recent confirmation to attend the ECO summit in Islamabad , gives a glimmer of hope amid the tense bilateral ties post a series of terror attacks across Pakistan.The denting of the SAARC summit in the previous year and the continuous regional tensions has adversely impacted economic integration; caught in the crossfire of bitter ties with India- the Transit Trade Agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan has also witnessed several hiccups. Naturally, such strains add on to Afghanistan’s internal crises.There is little doubt that most nations in the region are pushing towards some form of integration. But, the challenge remains that certain deep rooted contentions which enhance security dilemmas of the regional players only instead of formulating a broader framework.

Pakistan appears to be engaged in multiple integrating initiatives which could provide opportunities for Afghanistan– as the offer has been laid out by Pakistani officials on several occasions; despite the recurrent tensions. When speaking of  the involvement of major players — one of the prime reasons Afghanistan anchors its significance in the multiple ‘great games’ is its link to resourceful Central Asia.The framework of the ECO: which was initially carved out amongst Turkey, Iran and Pakistan–the states with a mixture of key coastlines and straits– aspires to connect Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia and Turkey not only to each other, but also to the rest of the world. Various free trade agreements , pipeline projects, transport routes followed by opportunities for human development are inclusive of the ECO objectives.

Under the Chinese OBOR vision– which in part also places a prominent focus on connecting China to Central Asi , Iran and Pakistan; and particularly via the CPEC– Afghanistan could carve out opportunities to resolve its landlocked dilemmas, enhance connectivity, trade, development, resolve energy crises and mend pieces of lost glory.

The Russian-Pakistani ties in the recent past, have witnessed a positive trajectory– apart from closer military ties– Pakistan is also carving bilateral out trade and energy options , the North South pipeline deal inked last year appears to be a significant push towards a coherent regional vision in terms of energy security contentions.Presently, a panoramic view suggests that Central Asia/Russia with abundant resources and respective set of economic issues seek to push out these raw materials; South Asia and East China– on the other hand, serve as a crucial market due to their energy crises– this win- win situation alongside initiates the path of productivity , industrialisation and enhanced trade. A  deadlock situation essentially limits the growth of both parties.Cooperation with Pakistan therefore , carries the potential to uplift Afghan economic grievances. Easier said than done; Afghanistan also finds itself in a precarious situation owing to the power struggle over  Central Asian energy.

At the core, the US and Russia/China appear to stand on opposing sides, and further down the lane–  Afghanistan stalls progress due to India-Pakistan and India-China conflicts. Just as Pakistan –drawing a closer alliance with China–appears to be integrating itself with Iran- Central Asia- Turkey- Russia- China.On the other hand India carves out its path via Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia, and Russia– drawing closer alliance with US.

Looking at the various linking routes, it appears that Russia, China, most of Central Asia, Iran and Turkey have carved out a more unifying vision. Pakistan too, supports this unifying vision.Therefore, currently India positions itself at odds with the general direction ; its contentions with China and Pakistan have prompted it to seek ‘bypassing’ routes– via sea and air , in hopes of integrating itself to Russia, Iran and Central Asia. Firstly, this only enhances the regional insecurities and reduces space for peaceful integration. Secondly, it appears that the Afghan government– owing to India’s carrot approach- in offering massive economic  and development assistance to Afghanistan with ‘less strings attached’– formulates Afghan perception of Pakistan through the Indian prism.

However, it appears that India would likely craft out its independant limits in terms of its alliance with the US; it also appears unlikely for it to align itself to a point where it would polarise its relations with Russia ,Iran or Central Asia.

Ideally, India should realise the adverse long term impacts of such policies of –aimed at maximising benefits.It is also ultimately up to Afghan discretion on where it chooses to position itself keeping long term repercussions -on its own state- in view.Perhaps , at this point; by adapting a ‘non-aligned’ stance in midst of  multiple games, it  could possibly create better opportunities and reduce regional tensions and assist in subduing -what appears to be- a mercenary oriented strategic culture on the local level.

In terms of the internal political crises– popular opinion dictates that certain regional players including Pakistan and Russia ‘support’ Talibanisation of Afghanistan for their respective purposes.However, calls for negotiations should not entirely be viewed as ‘support’. Despite nearly, 15 years of war in the country– a decisive victory does not only appear to be a far fetched notion , but has paved the way for multiple proxy wars which in turn have accentuated the country’s religio-ethnic divides and has given groups such as Daesh access into the region.These divides and conflicts carry the potential to create dangerous spillover effects for all regional players.

Pakistan has been a victim of this spillover. It is noteworthy, that apart from subduing terror , Pakistan’s Zarb-E-Azb , gained recognition from the world community in terms of the economic prospects of the strategies implemented.

Because, ‘terrorism’ is more or  less a global phenomenon– interpretations vary– However, the deep link between terrorism and economic growth suggests that the two cannot co-exist together. Behavioral reforms and opening negotiation spaces appears to have been a recurrent option implemented in most of Pakistan’s operations; though several ‘breakdowns’ have occurred due to various reasons and various powers.

But, in order to truly consolidate gains locally and put an end to these endless proxies– the Afghan government would need to engage the various local groups and political parties to resolve the internal restive conditions, acknowledge the will of the Afghan people and help compose  appropriate political representation structures internally.Pakistan, or other regional players are offering ‘suggestions’ in this regard; but again it is ultimately up to the Afghan government on how it utilises various opinions keeping in view the realistic internal dissensions.

Eliminating the roots of terror:

It almost sounds superfluous to call for combined elimination of ‘terrorism’ until the Afghan government makes its resolution regarding an independent , sovereign path for the country—a path that is capable of providing a peaceful intra region link for all its neighbours, sidelining itself from external ‘dividing’ strategies accepting the adverse link between long term socio-economic growth and the current internal political crises.

Certain reports state  that ISIS, various factions of TTP (such as Jammat ul Ahrar) and few ethnic separatist groups are forming a loose conglomerate– In Pakistan’s discourse, it suspects India’s growing presence in Afghanistan and its setup of several consulates near– Pakistani territories — to be involved in mobilising these overlaps. These concerns have also prompted Pakistan to launch operations against such safe havens– these attacks, however, are not directed towards the state of Afghanistan, but strictly towards the terror groups.  According to the Pakistani foreign office, Pakistan has proposed various collaborative mechanisms to the Afghan government in order to combat terrorism; and hopes to reach a conclusive agreement with its counterpart on the sidelines of the ECO summit. A follow through on such a commitment would yield positive results in terms of security and other bilateral ties. The issue of various terror groups: such as ISIS, AQIS, violent separatist groups, etc. pose a common regional threat. One of the core driving factors of such groups in amassing support or inducting recruits are the economic grievances and grievances emanating from inadequate political representation– adding on to  misconstrued religious statements. Socio-economic grievances are abundant in the region therefore; further instigating political and economic instability would only spark grievances, divides, pave way for such groups and in the mid- to long term create dangerous spillover effects for all regional players– as religio-ethnic ties also overlap across the spectrum.

Various frameworks appear to be in place such as SAARC, EAEU, ECO; — in hopes of regional economic and security integration. The focus should beon appropriate use of multilateralism in order to resolve various regional crises- such as land, water, food, energy and territorial security. A larger structure appears to be emerging — the SCO– a larger collective organisation focusing on multiple regional issues .  India and Pakistan both are members.. These opportunities need to be utilised for cooperative development. The mindsets stemming from scars of contemporary history would have to be forsaken. And dangerous impacts on the region by perpetuating divides need to be acknowledged. Lastly, Afghanistan’s choice on whether it chooses the path to salvation or repetition of chaos would be crucial decision.

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