Ebb and Flow

There is a con­stant love-hate re­la­tion­ship that marks ties be­tween Afghanistan and Pak­istan Pak­istan. Termed some­times as con­joined twins twins, the two coun­tries con­tinue to have dif­fi­cul­ties in co­ex­is­ten­ing peace­fully. Will they ever be friends?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Shahzad Chaudhry

Afghanistan has been in a mess for a long time. The Amer­i­cans in­vaded the coun­try in 2001. The last of them are still around and will stay on till De­cem­ber of 2016. and their 15 years of oc­cu­pa­tion is grad­u­ally ta­per­ing off. Since 1995, the Tal­iban ruled, which in it­self was a se­ri­ous ano­maly be­cause of the na­ture of their rule and so­cial vi­sion. It was likened to the stone-age and wasn't far from the truth. Be­fore then, Afghanistan was lit­er­ally at war within and this di­vided into un­govern­able fac­tions. The war of 1979-89 against the Soviet Union left in its wake re­gional com­man­ders and war­lords each with their own army.

As the larger civil war af­ter 1989 man­i­fested it­self be­tween the Per­sian speak­ing non-Pash­tun Northen Al­liance and the Pash­tun Tal­iban, the lo­cal war­lords with their re­spec­tive armies changed sides to suit their ad­van­tage. That em­broiled the en­tire Afghan so­ci­ety into an un­end­ing feud. Things aren’t any dif­fer­ent now, if you care to look be­yond Kabul .

The Karzai years were in ef­fect the Amer­i­can years with Karzai a pup­pet who owed his po­si­tion to their per­va­sive pres­ence. For­get his blow-hot, blow-cold di­a­tribes against the Amer­i­cans and ev­ery­one else who was in Afghanistan. His spe­cial at­ten­tion was al­ways re­served for neigh­bor Pak­istan be­cause it was easy to pin blame on them with the en­tire world shout­ing du­plic­ity. How far was that true is another mat­ter, but it left a Pak­istan that was bruised and vul­ner­a­ble to any who wished to seek cul­pa­bil­ity. As the Amer­i­can mis­sion to Afghanistan fal­tered, they too found fault with Pak­istan. When things are not go­ing well for a na­tion, as in­deed was the case with Pak­istan, it tends to be­come an easy fall-guy for ev­ery­one.

In the last cou­ple of years of the Karzai rule, ev­ery­one waited for him to go; he was so widely hated – even by his bene­fac­tors, the Amer­i­cans. The In­di­ans who found him amenable and worked well with him in his years were equally em­bar­rassed with that as­so­ci­a­tion and Karzai be­came quite a clown in the end. But he did leave his mark on Afghan think­ing as well as on the di­rec­tion that some Afghan in­sti­tu­tions took un­der him and which they still find dif­fi­cult to shed.

Ashraf Ghani’s ad­vent as the new leader was like fresh air for most of the world. Although he had been in Karzai’s cab­i­net for all these years he was open to look­ing at the sit­u­a­tion dif­fer­ently; he ap­peared more prag­matic and a re­al­ist. True to his pro­fes­sional groom­ing in the World Bank, hav­ing lived long in Amer­ica with clear im­pres­sions of the pur­pose­ful­ness in pol­icy and ob­jec­tives, he launched him­self dif­fer­ently and re­fused to be­come any­one’s poo­dle. He knew what was needed fore­most for Afghanistan – durable peace and so­cial co­he­sion – and be­gan work­ing to­wards it.

He had, how­ever, a ma­jor hand­i­cap: he wasn't a clear win­ner. Like the pre­vi­ous elec­tion where Karzai had to be force-placed as the Pres­i­dent with Amer­i­can in­ter­ven­tion and his com­peti­tor Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah told off to wait for his next chance, this time too, the elec­tions pro­duced frac­tious and con­tentious re­sults. Ghani, the de­clared win­ner re­fused to be ac­cepted as such by Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, who felt cheated. This wran­gling pro­duced a com­pos­ite Pres­i­dency, where if Ghani was the Pres­i­dent, Ab­dul­lah was the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive. This equa­tion hasn't

re­ally set­tled in de­spite the year that has gone by. The gov­ern­ment re­mains frac­tious and loy­al­ties are sus­pect. There is no in­te­grated and co­he­sive di­rec­tion that the Afghan gov­ern­ment can live by. The ge­n­e­sis lies again in the an­tecedence of the two prin­ci­pals.

Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, while a half-Pash­tun him­self, largely rep­re­sents the non-Pash­tun North­ern Al­liance and its in­ter­est in the gov­ern­ment. Ghani him­self is a Pash­tun with only ten­ta­tive roots in the com­mu­nity be­cause of the long years he has lived abroad. He, how­ever, is a con­sum­mate tech­no­crat who will still of­fer Afghanistan a bet­ter chance at find­ing its di­rec­tion which must be in­clu­sive, co­he­sive and widely shared. Ab­dul­lah, on the other hand, has a de­sire and a role to es­tab­lish his ow own stand­ing in the gov­ern­ment. The Af Afghan in­tel­li­gence or­ga­ni­za­tion, NDS, ha has his­tor­i­cally been run by non-Pash­tun mem­bers from the for­mer North­ern Al­liance. Some have openly de­clared theirh an­i­mos­ity for Pak­istan and con­tinue to hold reser­va­tions on any ef­fort by th the Afghan gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish im im­proved re­la­tions with Pak­istan and its in in­sti­tu­tions. The Afghan Army, though largely l eth­nic pro­por­tion Pash­tun rep­re­sent­ing of the pop­u­la­tion, the large has an of­fi­cer corp. that is non-Pash­tun. Most of the In­tel­li­gence peo­ple and the of­fi­cer corp. are trained in In­dia as their pre­ferred source.

This makes for a con­tentious mix. Even when Pres­i­dent Ghani wishes to have a more cor­dial re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan, as their fu­tures are con­joined in a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship of not only a long ter­ri­to­rial bor­der but com­mon cul­tural and eth­nic ties, plus the his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing been im­pacted by a con­tin­u­ous run of wars since 1979 with their re­spec­tive fall­out, his ef­forts re­main stunted by a tra­di­tion of ex­ces­sive ex­ter­nal in­ter­ven­tion that im­pacts Afghan pol­icy. This man­i­fests in how the re­la­tion­ship gets shaped be­tween the two neigh­bours. In­dia’s dom­i­nant re­la­tion­ship with Afghanistan is tra­di­tional as well as opportune which it lever­ages to fo­ment trou­ble in Pak­istan. Iran has its own in­flu­ence with the Per­sian-speak­ing and Shia com­mu­ni­ties of Afghanistan. Re­gional in­flu­ences com­pli­cate Afghanistan’s al­ready pre­car­i­ous fragility.

The re­cent out­burst of Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani a la Hamid Karzai was against the run of events be­tween the Afghanistan and Pak­istan. Af­ter an aus­pi­cious start, Ghani lit­er­ally tore into Pak­istan for the nu­mer­ous terror in­ci­dents that shook his coun­try in re­cent weeks. The lan­guage that he used to ex­press his out­rage was the lan­guage of the NDS. This surely would have, in ad­di­tion, pleased In­dia no end.

Ghani has been un­der pres­sure from the largely vo­cal Kabul elite for giv­ing into too much of the ex­pected Pak­istani af­fa­bil­ity with­out a suit­able re­turn in the form of the promised Peace Di­a­logue with the Tal­iban. He be­gan show­ing his im­pa­tience with the lack of progress. If in­deed Pak­istan had promised him de­liv­ery of the Tal­iban to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, it surely was a larger bite than what Pak­istan could easily chew. Over time, Pak­istan had lost such lien over the Tal­iban, spawn­ing in­stead a fac­tion that had taken on the state of Pak­istan it­self. The talks, how­ever, did take place, first in­for­mally in China and then in a more for­mal round in Mur­ree, Pak­istan. The re­sults were promis­ing. The Tal­iban were mov­ing to­wards ac­cept­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of main­stream­ing them­selves back into the Afghan con­sti­tu­tional fold. But with the sec­ond round on the cards, a bolt from the blue struck.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment leaked to the media that Mul­lah Omar was no more; that he had died a cou­ple of years back in Pak­istan, and that the Tal­iban move­ment in his name had faked his con­trol for the last two years. Who in­formed the Afghan NDS is not known. It turned out that the news was true. It also trig­gered an im­me­di­ate war of suc­ces­sion that frag­mented the Tal­iban, in­def­i­nitely putting on hold any fu­ture talks. What the Pak­istani state seemed to have gained in terms of en­sur­ing pos­i­tive lever­age and en­cour­aged the di­a­logue to­wards peace for Afghanistan and Pak­istan was lost. The op­por­tu­nity to re­pair Pak­istan’s bat­tered im­age over the years of strife in Afghanistan also lost trac­tion. Pak­istan de­sired peace des­per­ately for its own sta­bil­ity and for im­prov­ing the prospects for in­sti­tut­ing the pro­posed China-backed eco­nomic cor­ri­dor so vi­tal for Pak­istan’s own eco­nomic re­ju­ve­na­tion close to Afghanistan’s bor­der. These op­por­tu­ni­ties were set back in time and Pak­istan was the net loser.

The NDS re­leased the in­for­ma­tion about Mul­lah Omar while Pres­i­dent Ghani was out of the coun­try. This was a great em­bar­rass­ment for Ghani since it found him wrong-footed even as he sought im­proved re­la­tions with his neigh­bor. Did Ab­dul­lah, as the chief ex­ec­u­tive, clear the re­lease? Was it in­tended to sabotage the peace process and Pres­i­dent Ghani’s pol­icy to im­prove re­la­tions with Pak­istan? Given the ori­en­ta­tion that the NDS has over time dis­played in its anti-Pak­istan rhetoric, it is not dif­fi­cult to sur­mise how this sin­gle event has im­pacted Afghanistan-Pak­istan re­la­tions.

Mul­lah Man­sour, Omar’s re­place­ment, is still op­posed by a fac­tion. He has had to do a cou­ple of things to es­tab­lish his cre­den­tials: one, he has had to prove his tough stance against the Afghan gov­ern­ment to gain pop­u­lar­ity and ac­cept­abil­ity across the Tal­iban spec­trum by re­sort­ing to some en­tirely un­called for bomb­ings in Afghanistan, and two, he has had to put on hold the peace talks. Both have re­gressed the re­gion in its as­pi­ra­tion to find early sta­bil­ity. This im­pacts Pak­istan ad­versely in equal terms. Ghani’s di­a­tribe against Pak­istan was based around a frus­tra­tion in his in­abil­ity to move for­ward in seek­ing peace and forg­ing a so­ci­etal co­he­sion. The frac­tures in his gov­ern­ment have tended to over­ride a uni­son in pol­icy – es­pe­cially se­cu­rity which de­fines the fu­ture vi­a­bil­ity of the state.

IS beck­ons in the Afghan tur­moil and many grown in the terror econ­omy are find­ing refuge in such as­so­ci­a­tion. The usual re­course of Afghan in­abil­ity to con­trol its in­ter­nal dy­nam­ics must find an ex­pres­sion which tra­di­tion­ally is Pak­istan: hence on Afghan urg­ings, the US also re­minded Pak­istan that there is still the un­fin­ished busi­ness of the Haqqa­nis which could place the pro­vi­sion of the Coali­tion Sup­port

at Fund in jeop­ardy. Pak­istan rushed into the busi­ness of clear­ing the last Tal­iban re­doubt on the borders with Afghanistan in the dif­fi­cult ter­rain of Shawwal. But merely Pak­istan clear­ing its precincts may hardly de­liver Afghanistan its de­sired peace. A con­certed ef­fort with di­a­logue will.

To that end Afghanistan will need to stop bid­ding ex­ter­nal agenda in its pol­icy, else the days of fur­ther tur­moil in Afghanistan will only ex­tend. The state will have to find its own bal­ance and within that seek peace. The time has al­ready come when all for­eign in­ter­ests and in­flu­ences that could help Afghanistan have ex­hausted their pa­tience. Some in­flu­ence will re­main but those are com­pet­i­tive in na­ture us­ing Afghan soil for re­spec­tive for­eign pol­icy ends. Pak­istan’s in­ter­est in Afghanistan has mu­tated over time and is now en­tirely de­fen­sive. The coun­try will have to fight the ag­gres­sive use of Afghan soil for fo­ment­ing trou­ble in its ter­ri­to­ries. A weak afghan gov­ern­ment is in­ca­pable of keep­ing such malfeasant in­flu­ences out. That will test Pak­istan’s re­la­tion­ship with Afghanistan. Iran too brought into the pic­ture may just com­pli­cate the sce­nario fur­ther. Test­ing times for Afghanistan are not yet over and it isn’t en­tirely the fault of its neigh­bours.

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