Once again, it would be Pakistan hosting millions of refugees from the neighboring country; in other words, it’s Pakistan’s land which would act as the safe haven for the uprooted Afghans.
By Jawad Ali Shah
At the beginning of the 21st century, war on terrorism was launched by the United States and its allies to counter the growing influence of Taliban and other militant organizations in the region and the world. The 9/11 incident changed the entire course of globalization and the global security paradigms and the era of new global war, after the cold war, started against the non-state militias in Afghanistan particularly against Taliban. In this whole game, Pakistan has paid the heavy price due to its geostrategic location. Subsequently, the country which had been home for the three million Afghan refugees since 1970s plunged into a situation that tore apart its social fabric since the United States launched the military operations. However, the Kremlin’s great game – to acquire the warm water port – also affected the region at the core. Today, according to Watson Institute, more than seventy one thousand civilians (Pakistani and Afghani), thirty five hundred US and NATO forces, seventy eight thousand National military and police of Afghanistan and eighty four thousand opposition fighters including ISIS, Al-Qaida and other militant organizations have lost their lives during the period 2001-2021. This is all because of the ‘invade and encroach’ policies of the United States and Russia. And they still want Pakistan to do more. A recent tweet from the State Department illustrated that “We call on neighboring countries to keep their borders open to those seeking international protection and to provide assistance to existing and new Afghan refugees.” Such policies are going to hurt the region’s already vulnerable states like Pakistan which is struggling for its own economic endeavors.
The Blame Game and the Mistrust among the Neighbors
Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and member National Assembly of Pakistan Andaleeb Abbas said while quoting American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr “hate does not end hate, only love can. Revenge cannot end revenge, only forgiveness can. War cannot end war, only peace can. Let us rise above hate and revenge.”
Pakistan and Afghanistan have the complicated relations since the inception of the former state; the two states have been in the eyes of imperial powers because of their geostrategic location. Afghanistan serves as the window to the Central Asian oil rich countries to the United States; while Pakistan can be used for the quest to the warm water ports by Russia; in recent times, Russia’s pivot has been shifted from Eurasia to South Asia due to its historic objective. Simultaneously, Russia also wishes to be the major partner of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Afghanistan, despite Islamabad’s diplomatic efforts to build cordial relations, continuously blames Pakistan every other day for terrorist attacks in Kabul. Dr. Jaspal wrote in Global Village Space “On June 1, 2017, a massive truck bomb killed at least 90 people and wounded more than 300 in a fortified Kabul’s diplomatic quarter. Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, immediately, accused Taliban-allied Haqqani Network for the attack and also blamed Pakistan for supporting Taliban”. These types of allegations by the Kabul government create a vacuum for mistrust and also provide space for terrorist organization to run their operations in a smooth way. According to Dr. Jaspal, since 2001, Kabul government has failed dramatically to building up the Afghan national institutions and to defeat the Taliban militarily despite the colossal political and military support by the United States. Moreover, the defeat of 350,000 strong Afghan troops trained and well-equipped by the United States to control the terrorist activities creates frustration in Kabul government which is currently led by President Ashraf Ghani; and they simply accuse Islamabad for their own strategic failure.
The two nations which have cultural and religious similarities should work for peace and stability together and fight the menace of terrorism with the collective efforts. As someone has wisely said that the terrorism has no boundaries, nor has the peace, so, peace in Afghanistan would mean peace in the other neighboring states; that is why Islamabad’s major focus has been the peace and stability in the Afghan region. Additionally, common citizens can also play their important role to bring peace and stability in the region as the power of people is always more than the people in power. So, people to people contact, cultural and educational exchange program, trade deals on the state and individual level and most importantly the coordinated counter-terrorism strategy can fill-up the vacuum of mistrust among the two governments.
Chaos in Afghanistan: Can Pakistan afford?
Afghanistan for long has been the geostrategic and geopolitical quagmire for Pakistan. For Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri “it has tested the national resilience for time and again since 9/11 has taken place”. Nonetheless, Pakistan has paid heavy price for fighting other’s war, and it can’t afford more chaos in the Pak-Afghan region. Since now, the drums of civil war are accelerating in Afghanistan after the POTUS declared the formal withdrawal of US-NATO forces from the region by September 11, 2021. The Taliban are capturing now the urban areas after controlling more than 60 villages in May and June 2021, something that would push Washington and Kabul to whip up their criticisms of Pakistan and demanding it to do more again. According to many analysts, the civil war in Afghanistan is inevitable, and the Afghanistan National Force (ANF) isn’t in a position to fight with the increasing influence of Taliban in the country. Such instability in Afghanistan would have the serious consequences for neighboring countries like Pakistan where the Taliban have their deep channels. And once again, it would be Pakistan hosting millions of refugees from the neighboring country; in other words, it’s Pakistan’s land which would act as the safe haven for the uprooted Afghans. And this refugee factor would hit hard the obsession of Pakistan’s strategic interest that is geo-economics which was termed by National Security Advisor Moeed Yosuf as “economic bases” referring to the regional connectivity and integration of South and Central Asia through Afghanistan. It was also articulated in Islamabad Security Dialogue that Islamabad wishes to expand its security framework with focusing on the concept of economic security. But the notion of upcoming civil war would leave the entire region towards instability for decades to come. For the regional peace, the United States and its allies have to make sure the peaceful withdrawal for their forces from the region. But the current efforts taken by the United States seem to be unserious about the regional peace as it only focuses on its diplomatic presence in the region and securing the Kabul airport at the cost of peace. For that purpose, President Joe Biden wants neighboring countries to take charge of the airport while he wants no troop to be left behind; Turkey was one the suitable options and the issue came up Biden met its Turkish counterpart on the sidelines of NATO summit in June, 2021.
The peace and stability in Afghanistan is much important to Pakistan’s shift from geopolitics to geo-economic gambit. The continued absence of peace and increasing level of violence in the region would disturb the growth and development of Pakistan’s bid to fully capitalize on the opportunities and options that CPEC provides to Pakistan and the region. China is also interested in the peaceful and friendly regime in Afghanistan to invest the capital in land locked but a window state towards the Central Asian countries. And both China and Pakistan have invited Afghanistan to join the economic corridor. However, if Afghanistan is indulged into the civil war though the various groups want to control the Kabul, the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan would remain a mere dream. An analyst Ali Zia notes that “the ramifications of the brutal civil war will be deleterious for the CPEC project, especially given that its hotspots are located in the Pakistani provinces bordering Afghanistan. This is something that will add yet another dimension to security threats the CPEC project faces in the near future. Last but not least, Pakistan cannot afford any misshapen like civil war in its neighboring country.
Possibility of Peace and Stability in Afghanistan
Stability in Afghanistan can provide the stability in three other regions explained under Barry Buzan’s theory of complex regional security, and the instability can also bring instability in the same three regions. Regional complex security theories defines how one state’s security status is interconnected with other neighboring states’ security that leads to the paramount security interdependence in the region (Buzan and Waever, 2003). Major Powers can get into the regional complex security paradigm to cope with the catastrophes or for their own self-interest, just like the Russian and American presence in Afghanistan. However, regional security complex Afghanistan’s position can be taken as insulator means a state between the two or more regional security complexes since it borders with the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia; unstable Afghanistan becomes concerns for all the states of these three regions. So, if states of these all three regions follow their own self-centric policies and strategies without any cooperation, a new great game would emerge on the global level, and the country in turmoil will face another chaos with participation of many regional and global actors. For the peaceful purpose, the United States must not leave Afghanistan in a way the Biden Administration wants. The withdrawal should be after the concrete intra-Afghan peace deal and the deal with countries like China, Russia and India as the benefits of peace deal should be equalized and stop all the regional and global powers not to reengage in the proxy politics in Afghanistan for their limited interest. This is the only rational thinking for the sustainable peace in Afghanistan and in the region. A regional agreement is the need of the hour for bringing the peace in Afghanistan.
Major Powers Cooperation in Afghanistan
Actors such as the United States, Pakistan, Russia, India, China and the Central Asian republics all have their own Afghanistan strategy to achieve their national interest. For instance, India has severally used Kabul regime to downgrade Islamabad’s stance over the regional peace and stability. Due to such conflicting rivalries among the regional actors, Afghanistan can face a new civil war crisis after the complete withdrawal of US-NATO forces. The situation in which the Kabul depicts a proxy war between the regional and international actors such as Russia, the United States, Pakistan, India, Iran and Saudi Arabia supporting diverse ethnic and religious/sectarian groups for their own interests.
Despite all these different interest, there is some possibilities of cooperation among those powers because all of them realize from the civil war in Afghanistan which made deep sufferings politically and economically. In addition, other neighboring states also faced the negative consequences from their involvement in Afghanistan and their looming interests in the country. But the problem is, despite all the past lessons, every stakeholder wants its own terms in the peace process in Afghanistan. Therefore, in order to restore peace in Afghanistan, every state has to give up with their interests in the war-torn country and find a collective solution for the stable and peaceful Afghanistan. TAPI, CASA 1000, and CPEC can be the road for peace in the country which has suffered the most in this century.
The future of Afghanistan determines the future the region. The looming threat of civil war is a security concern for almost all the regional states and it would have the direct consequences on the economy and the politics of the countries including Pakistan, India, Iran, and China. Turkey would also face the effects of civil war, if it gets involved securing the Kabul airport just to reduce the US sanctions that were imposed on Turkey after it purchased the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. Initially, President Erdogan threatened with his rhetoric speeches to the United States saying that Turkey is the sovereign state and we don’t need American permission to defend ourselves; but after the hastened economic sanctions, he is up to convince President Biden by taking responsibility of Kabul airport and in return wants reduction of economic sanctions. These play games contribute a lot destabilizing the regional politics and particularly Afghanistan because after the complete withdrawal of foreign forces, and if the Taliban comes in power, they would never tolerate the foreign presence (even if their Muslim brothers) on their land. Peace in Afghanistan can only be sustained if these types of games the regional actors play are stopped and a serious strategy is adopted to stabilize Afghanistan. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it has to adopt the policy of neutrality whoever comes in power in Afghanistan. In past, Pakistan has friendly relation with the Taliban in 1990s, and it was a mistake to go against them and fight a global war by the side of United States. We have to learn from our past mistakes in order to not to repeat them because in international relations no one can change the neighbor while the friends and foes can be changed. Keeping in view the geographic proximity, Pakistani leaders need to support whoever sits in Kabul.
Jawad Ali Shah is undergraduate student, Department of International Relations, University of Sindh, Jamshoro