The Pak- Afghan ties witnessed certain positive initiatives this month. A Pakistani delegation led by the foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua visited Kabul- during which utilizing Chinese proposals for peace dialogue were agreed upon. A few days later, the Afghan deputy foreign minister during his visit to Islamabad reiterated this resolve and called for both countries to take advantage of China’s regional role and improve bilateral ties.
However, such resolves have been made in the past. The US on its part also lauded the recent Pak -Afghan bilateral initiatives. But, the overall effectiveness still hinges on how the biggest stakeholder in the Afghan arena chooses to progress.
President Trump during his latest announcement on Afghanistan has indicated an open ended military commitment, he also pointed out to the issue of ‘safe havens’. Many in the US continue to believe that the success of its Afghan war is directly linked to the alleged safe havens across the border. Thus, raising the consequential question of ‘how to deal with Pakistan’. So far, Trump has indicated the possibility of a tougher approach.
Several reports indicate that there is a two camp divide on the issue of Pakistan. One which calls for more sticks till a ‘behavioral change’ in regards to -allegedly providing safe havens- is noticed and the other which doubts the efficacy of more sticks.
The recent high level visit led by General Votel to Pakistan occurred at an interesting time – when simultaneously, Trump along with his national security team had convened at Camp David to discuss the Afghan strategy. Some claim that Votel’s visit was aimed at laying out a set of US concerns, possibly some demands and explaining various ‘pros and cons’. Pakistan- on its end has not officially commented on the details of the discussion either; except for a bitter sweet ISPR statement which ensued the meeting, stating that
“ COAS highlighted the importance Pakistan accords to its relations with US, particularly security cooperation and efforts towards regional stability. COAS said that Pakistan has undertaken operations against terrorists of all hue and colour. He reiterated his commitment to work in close coordination with Afghan security forces and US-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM) for improved security environment in Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.
While referring to Afghanistan and Pak-US relations, COAS said that no other country has more interest for peace in Afghanistan than Pakistan. He further said that more than financial or material assistance, we seek acknowledgement of our decades long contributions towards regional peace and stability, understanding of our challenges and most importantly the sacrifices Pakistani nation and its security forces have rendered in fight against terrorism and militancy”
At this point, Pakistan aspires to converge with the US in its counter-terror initiatives. It also aspires to see peace and stability in Afghanistan , for that it suggests propagation of a genuine inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan. Primarily due to the fact that taking reckless decisive actions , only exacerbates grievances, scuttles any scope for internal dialogue and keeps the war ignited and secondly keeping in view the detrimental impacts of spillovers, it may not have the capacity to engage in a ‘two front war’. Yet, at the same time- owing to those same fears of spillovers, it also does not wish to see the empowerment of any sole group as such a reality could prove counterproductive to its own priceless sacrifices in the war against terror.
The US also wants a stable Afghanistan. It has three key missions: 1. countering terrorism 2. Supporting the ANSF and the Afghan government and the third which it remains the most fixated on: inculcating a ‘psychological defeat’ in the minds of the ‘insurgents’ , ultimately compelling them to cave in. The aspirations seems to be to tackle all three simultaneously and seemingly with the same old narratives. An approach which may continue to keep the multifaceted Afghan conflict puzzles scattered.
The Taliban has also enunciated its own stance in a recent open letter to Trump. So, while Pakistan and US may converge more effectively on the first two missions, but the third one may witness some glitches owing to varied Pak-US prisms of concerns and on the ‘mood of the insurgents’ – a matter which may be beyond Pakistan’s capacity for influence.
Thus, at this point, before incorporating supposedly ‘new sticks or carrots’. It is imperative for Pakistan, US and Afghanistan to ideologically converge on an end state.
Moving past the deadlock:
In an op-ed titled “ For Peace in Afghanistan , Talk to Pakistan” Dr Moeed and Stephen Hadley state :
- “ To get Pakistan to alter its approach in Afghanistan, the United States must understand and address Pakistan’s strategic anxieties.
- Though many in the United States and India believe Pakistan is being paranoid, the fact remains that Pakistan is convinced it is under threat. The Pakistani security establishment sees the Taliban as a check on Indian activity in Afghanistan and has doubled down on its efforts to counter deepening Afghan-India ties.
- Yet Pakistan’s goal is not continued chaos in Afghanistan. Nor does it wish for a Taliban victory, as this would strengthen their militant kin in Pakistan. What Pakistan wants is a reconciliation process that ushers the Taliban back into the political fold in Afghanistan, without allowing the militants to control the country once again.
- The United States should facilitate an India-Pakistan dialogue on the full range of economic and political issues, including their mutual concerns in Afghanistan
- The United States must also get serious about a political settlement in Afghanistan that involves all elements of Afghan society, including the Taliban.
- Without reduction in Taliban-led violence in Afghanistan, the Afghan government will be unable to rally its people behind negotiations. Our recent conversations with senior Pakistani officials suggest that a window of opportunity exists… At the same time, they will not move if they see this as ignoring Pakistan’s own security needs.”
Another recent op-ed titled Mapping a path to victory in Afghanistan by Stephen Hadley states:
- “After 16 years of sacrifice in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump is right to ask why we are there and what it will take to win.
- the Trump administration can deliver another major blow against terrorism. The Islamic State and al-Qaida seek to expand their presence in Afghanistan, but virtually none of the Afghan groups — including the Taliban — supports them.
- The challenge will then be to preserve the victory and to help the Afghan people stabilize their country so that the Islamic State and al-Qaida do not return. This can be done with a political/diplomatic strategy that seeks an inclusive settlement among all Afghan political factions while creating a more legitimate, popularly supported government that addresses the conflict’s root causes.
- The big question is what to do about the Taliban. The answer: Test its interest in peace.
- Defeating terrorist groups that threaten the United States does not include or require defeating the Taliban. The United States and NATO must make clear that they will fully support an Afghan-led political settlement involving all sectors of Afghan society — including the Taliban.
- The Afghan government can then credibly tell the Taliban that it will pay a heavy price for continuing to fight but that it is welcome to participate in a political settlement.
- First, it will require a new U.S. approach to Pakistan that seeks to address its strategic concerns. This means supporting Pakistan more directly in dealing with its internal terrorist threat and the terrorist threat from Afghan territory. This also means helping to restart a discrete dialogue between India and Pakistan on issues of mutual concern while encouraging greater regional economic integration. At the same time, Pakistan must show progress in cutting off terrorist activity against India and Afghanistan (including by the Haqqani network) with targeted sanctions and other steps to raise the costs to Pakistan if it fails to do so.
- Second, U.S. diplomatic efforts will need to focus on rebuilding a regional consensus on the need for a relatively peaceful and stable Afghanistan. To end the war, the United States should support regional mechanisms such as the Quadrilateral Coordination Group consisting of the United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. More broad-based groups of Afghanistan’s neighbors and related regional actors should also be engaged. Russia and Iran should be offered a positive role as an alternative to their increasing support for the Taliban and other problematic groups.
Lastly, in his recent op-ed titled Path to progress Dr Moeed Yusuf highlights some key points:
- “First, neither side can get anywhere close to an acceptable outcome in Afghanistan if the other opposes it outright. Pakistan will always retain sufficient power to spoil an outcome that it deems counterproductive to its interests. But denying the US victory doesn’t equal an ability to dictate its own preferences
- Second, there is no military solution in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban won’t be eliminated on the battlefield. Still, an insurgency that has continued to sustain itself won’t give up unless there is an attractive enough offer on the table.
- Third, for Pakistan, Indian influence in Afghanistan shall remain an anathema for the security establishment. But India is also set to persist as a US priority. Nor do the Afghans want to curtail India’s footprint in their country. Corollary: India is there to stay in Afghanistan.
- It would entail a US strategy centered on a peace process that seeks to bring the Taliban into the political fold. Potent concessions to the Taliban could include their recognition as a political force, some share in power, and negotiations on the timeline for a US troop withdrawal. In return, they would agree to accept the Afghan constitution, end violence and operate strictly within the political mainstream.
- But unlike previously, Pakistan will not be asked to bring the Taliban to the table and force them to agree to a deal. This was never a smart approach — the Afghans do not trust a Pakistan-led process and the Taliban detest being seen as Pakistan’s stooges.
- Such direct conversations will remove concerns about Pakistani micromanagement of the process while also eliminating Pakistan’s concerns of being blamed in case the talks fail.
- The US demands for Pakistani action against the Taliban and Haqqani network would now be narrowly focused on irreconcilable elements working to scuttle the talks. Since Pakistan will be supporting the peace process, it’ll have a genuine stake in cutting the naysayers within the Taliban ranks to size.
- Simultaneously, the US would have to find a way to address the elephant — the proxy battle between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan. Both sides would have to articulate their red lines and find means to verify compliance. Realistically, both would want to maintain their spheres of influence in Afghanistan. The key would be for them to do so in ways that don’t threaten the other”
Conclusion: The US needs to prioritize its own mission in Afghanistan, committing more troops to an endless list of enemies is unlikely to produce effective results.
Keeping in view the downward trajectory in India-Pakistan ties since the advent of Modi, the US needs to set the stage for genuine dialogue between India and Pakistan, exacerbating Pakistani security concerns could deepen the rift between Pak-US dividing it along bloc lines in the form US/India and Pak/China, which could further complicate the Afghan issue.
In Order to keep the recent Pak-Afghan initiatives on a positive trajectory the US needs to encourage ending the bilateral blame games by the two neighbors and assist them in devising a coherent security mechanism.
Many cooks are now involved in the Afghan broth– Thus, the US also needs to keep a realistic view of Pakistan’s limitations and leverages and also analyze its own policies with other powers that could complicate the Afghan situation. Therefore, a focus on devising a coherent Afghan political reconciliation strategy in collaboration with Afghanistan, Pakistan and even China is essential in order to strategically vet out the irreconcilable elements only.
In the wake of Trump’s recent announcement, a wave of resentment from some quarters- can be witnessed in Pakistan as well. Some seem ‘ready for the rupture’ but at this point Pakistan needs to persistently make its case to the US and expedite its efforts in reaching out to US, Afghanistan and China and urge for convergence on the Afghan end state.