By Rana Athar Javed
Irritated by the US Afghan policy and loss of credibility as partner in peace, President Hamid Karzai managed to expose his temper, and thereby raising serious questions about a “real and sustainable” peace plan for Afghanistan. What puzzles the regional powers including Pakistan is that withdrawal is predicted and planned, but complex reality of establishing peace is mostly driven by assumptions and one-sided decisions both by Afghanistan and the US.
Expecting that a comprehensive withdrawal is possible under highly contentious diplomatic conditions means to damage the future of political transformation and transition in Afghanistan. On the matter of reconciliation with the Taliban, the “going alone” stance of Afghanistan is purely a threat rather than solution to peace in the region. Similarly, the US has taken upon itself the task to define the nature/composition of conflict between Pashtun and Persian speakers of Afghanistan. Why, because US recognition of the Taliban at this critical stage will muster political support for its plan to control major negotiation partner in the foreseeable future.
For Pakistan, the fundamental concern is the effectiveness of Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). Partly, because the unprepared withdrawal will weaken Afghan’s control over rough elements in ANSF, and partly the threat of civil war between the traditional warlords and the Taliban could further burden the Pak-military and its security forces. Hence, assessing the risks of further infiltration from the side of Afghanistan is vital for the security of its Western borders.
On the other hand, both Afghanistan and the US need to resolve their internal rift over who is “really” the chief sponsor of reconciliation project. As the post-2014 fears of insecurity are growing, the assurances and excuses are too being propagated by the US/Afghan governments. How the “transformation phase” (2015-2024) will be supervised, and to which extent economic and military resources will be at Afghan government’s discretion are vital sources of concern for regional partners. The problem in each of these arguments is the narrative of “lack of confidence in the country’s future stability, and the memory of the post-Soviet era also constitute a driving force of fear that pushes people of all classes to flee. It affects both Afghans from rural areas exposed to Taliban violence and qualified middle classes from the business and political elites in Kabul.”
The order with which current narrative is being debated is remarkably traditional both in terms of Afghan conflict and the consequences of “Great Games” of the world superpowers. Since the future stability in Afghanistan relates to how the Karzai government characterizes its original responsibility of building peaceful Afghanistan, disengagement and one-man-show would open more channels of diplomatic battles with the regional/international partners.
The US downplays the fact of Taliban/Pashtun dominance, and already went into mode of transformation, and thereby hints at insufficient interest in really striking a “peace deal” before the US withdrawal in 2014. For Pakistan, the military importance of such a scenario is crucial, and needs broader approach to deal with future threats, and thus taking initiatives along with international community to highlight the implications for regional instability.
On papers, negotiation & reconciliation are sought to show responsibility toward the Afghan nation, but decades-old-ideological convictions of different groups and lack of intense interest by the current Afghan government in people’s welfare demonstrate a very bleak reality.
For this reason, Pakistan beyond 2014 needs a clear and concrete rules of engagement policy with Afghan government. The diplomatic dichotomy being displayed by Karzai government now would change the contextual character of peace deal in future. This reflection is in line with the argument that negative consequences of an ambiguous and complex withdrawal plan will directly impact the internal security situation of Pakistan. There have, of course, been some successful decisions of strategic importance taken by Pakistani government including the releasing key Taliban leaders and, supporting an Afghan-led peace plan.
To be concluded, Pakistan is facing a variety of unusually difficult security threats today, in some cases, unprecedented complexity (e.g. Baluchistan). As the issues of internal security and activities of foreign sponsored networks of militants has grown, Pakistan’s ability to improvise and make decisions that “only” benefits Pakistan’s territorial integrity and stability appears to be tempered by regional powers.
The potential security vacuum in the post-2014 largely depends upon the “control & support” system of the US because fear of collapse after withdrawal would create further insecurity for all the key players. Pakistan requires a comprehensive interactive/diplomatic communication initiative to convince the US and NATO, in order to protect its “own” security and economic interests.