Afghanistan One Step For­ward

Will the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment be­tween Pak­istan and Afghanistan en­hance co­op­er­a­tion and po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion in Afghanistan?

Southasia - - Contents - By Raza Khan

As the with­drawal date of all U.S com­bat troops from Afghanistan draws closer, peace in the war-torn coun­try is far from fully re­stored. In the mean­while, the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment (SPA) be­tween Afghanistan and Pak­istan, signed in Fe­bru­ary, shows some signs of op­ti­mism.

The agree­ment marks a new era of en­gage­ment and co­op­er­a­tion in the field of se­cu­rity and econ­omy. It was de­bated at the tri­par­tite sum­mit meet­ing in Lon­don with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron, Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari and Afghan Pres­i­dent Karzai. At the Lon­don meet­ing, both Afghanistan and Pak­istan dis­cussed a re­gional strat­egy for a post-with­drawal Afghanistan. While ad­dress­ing a joint news con­fer­ence with the other two lead­ers, Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari said, “We feel that we can only sur­vive to­gether in a peace­ful at­mos­phere. We can­not change our neigh­bor­hood or our neigh­bors. We will sup­port our Afghan brothers to come out of this war.” Crit­ics ar­gue that th­ese words sug­gest a strong guar­an­tee from Is­lam­abad to bring the Tal­iban to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble. How­ever, it is quite de­bat­able how much in­flu­ence Pak­istan still wields over the Tal­iban. Un­doubt­edly, Pak­istan has in­flu­ence over the Tal­iban but it is not as per­va­sive as is per­ceived by the Afghan government or the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter, David Cameron, while di­vulging the de­tails of the sum­mit meet­ing, dis­closed that Pak­istani and Afghan lead­ers had agreed to “an un­prece­dented level of co­op­er­a­tion.” The im­por­tance of the talks can be gauged not only from the fact that the UK of­fi­cially hosted and mod­er­ated them but that se­nior diplo­matic, mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing for­eign min­is­ters, chiefs of de­fence staff, chiefs of in­tel­li­gence, the Afghan na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and the chair of the Afghan High Peace Coun­cil also took part.

The sum­mit talks in Lon­don were held af­ter Pak­istan re­leased 25 lead­ing Afghan Tal­iban to fa­cil­i­tate peace talks in Afghanistan. In ad­di­tion, a high-level Afghan mil­i­tary del­e­ga­tion, led by Chief of Army Staff, Gen­eral Bis­mil­lah Muham­madi had also re­cently vis­ited the coun­try. Afghanistan has been com­plain­ing for long that Pak­istan was us­ing ar­rested Afghan Tal­iban lead­ers to dic­tate peace terms in Afghanistan. The grad­ual re­lease of 25 key Tal­iban fig­ures left Afghan de­trac­tors spell­bound. The re­lease of Tal­iban de­tainees by Pak­istan has re­sulted in cor­rect­ing Is­lam­abad’s im­age in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, which has also crit­i­cized Pak­istan-bash­ing by Afghan au­thor­i­ties.

As Prime Min­is­ter Cameron pointed out, the re­lease of Tal­iban de­tainees by Pak­istan and the open­ing of an of­fice in Doha (Qatar) by the Afghan government should send a clear mes­sage of ne­go­ti­a­tion to the Tal­iban. It still re­mains un­cer­tain though, how the Tal­iban will op­er­ate their po­lit­i­cal of­fice in Qatar, which they agreed to open back in 2010. In this re­gard, there is hope that the Tal­iban will fi­nally show some flex­i­bil­ity and par­tic­i­pate in a peace­ful, po­lit­i­cal process in Afghanistan. Tal­iban since long have taken the po­si­tion that they do not rec­og­nize the ex­ist­ing Afghan con­sti­tu­tion and po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions as they were es­tab­lished by the United States led West­ern World

Pak­istan in­di­cated the grad­ual but con­stant shift in ‘strate­gic depth’ in Afghanistan, the roots of which go back to the decade of 1980s and the rule of Gen­eral Zia ul Haq (197988). The credit of ini­ti­at­ing a shift in Is­lam­abad’s Afghan pol­icy, which has proved de­struc­tive and in the words of Pres­i­dent Zar­dari “very dam­ag­ing” for Pak­istan, goes to Chief of Army Staff, Gen­eral Ash­faq Pervez Kiyani. It was Gen­eral Kiyani, who a cou­ple of years back started as­sert­ing and re­it­er­at­ing that Pak­istan did not want strate­gic depth in Afghanistan as was gen­er­ally

per­ceived in purely mil­i­tary-strate­gic terms. Rather Gen­eral Kiyani coun­ter­ar­gued that Pak­istan’s con­cep­tion of strate­gic depth meant a ‘peace­ful’ and ‘friendly’ Afghanistan. In­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts de­fined this new con­cep­tion as a con­di­tion where Pak­istan’s ri­val In­dia must not have any po­lit­i­cal, and more im­por­tantly mil­i­tary in­flu­ence in Afghanistan. Afghan of­fi­cials and politi­cians, while de­mand­ing too much from Is­lam­abad have shied away from giv­ing a can­did guar­an­tee that Afghan soil would not be used against Pak­istan at any cost.

The SPA also paved the way for Afghan se­cu­rity per­son­nel be trained by the Pak­istan armed forces. This was first of­fered by Gen­eral Kiyani but was dis­dain­fully re­jected by the Afghan government. Kiyani also of­fered NATO and the Afghans 150,000 troops in four years, if Pak­istan was en­trusted with the train­ing task. While re­cently vis­it­ing Pak­istan and see­ing its de­fence and train­ing fa­cil­i­ties, Afghan Army Chief Bis­mil­lah stated that the Afghans were not aware of the high qual­ity train­ing fa­cil­i­ties avail­able nearby, which can also be taken ad­van­tage of by Afghan forces.

While US and NATO forces want to pull out of Afghanistan as soon as pos­si­ble, Kabul’s SPA with Is­lam­abad could go a long way in trig­ger­ing pro­cesses of Afghan po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion in the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

Raza Khan is a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and re­searcher on the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy and the Af-Pak re­gion. He has served in sev­eral se­nior po­si­tions in the Pak­istan government and is cur­rently writ­ing his doc­toral the­sis on re­li­gious ex­trem­ism-ter­ror­ism in Pak­istan.

Hamid Karzai, Pres­i­dent ofAfghanistan, David Cameron, Prime Min­is­ter of Bri­tian,

andAsifAli Zar­dari, Pres­i­dent of Pak­istan at the tri­lat­eral sum­mit in Lon­don.

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