Instead of preparing itself for the role of a sole external power in Afghanistan, Pakistan must prefer Afghanistan to be a shared politico-economic responsibility of regional and international players
The Afghan-war theatre is still alive. In 2010, in an effort to synchronize with the troop-withdrawal scheme of the NATO, the US announced that it would pull out its troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 to be completed by the end of 2014. Recently, Afghanistan has been declared a major non-NATO ally of the United States. The developments in and out of Afghanistan, whether it is the Bonn Conferences or the Tokyo Conference, are sending two clear messages to Pakistan.
First, the world may not abandon Afghanistan at the sole mercy of the Taliban. The U.S.-NATO coalition (or at least the U.S. and UK) is determined to have its minimum presence in Afghanistan to support the local regime and ward off another 9/11. In post-2014 Afghanistan, the Taliban may be a part of a broad-based (representative) government in Kabul instead of hosting the national show single-handedly. For the Taliban, one of the pre-requisites of joining the government in Kabul is to shun al-Qaeda forever.
In the past, Pakistan also supported an analogous idea by averring raucously that in the post-Soviet withdrawal phase, the U.S. and the world had marooned Afghanistan that led to surfacing of the Taliban and spawning of Qaeda sanctuaries. The U.S.-NATO coalition seems to be taking care of that complaint.
During the five-year rule (1996-2001) of the Taliban over Afghanistan, the country remained divided along ethnic lines. The North one-thirds fell to the Tajik and Uzbek while the South two-thirds came under the Pashtun (or the Taliban) sway. During their rule, the Taliban might have curbed poppy cultivation effectively and imposed Islamic injunctions on society for its edification, but those steps could not help Afghanistan be assimilated into the international politico-economic mainstream. During those five years, Afghanistan could spill over into Pakistan nothing but medievalism and obscurantism. The Taliban ideology, a product of conservative religious thought, affected the impressionable minds of Pakistani youth who mostly were either illiterate doing menial jobs or poor seeking education in various religious seminaries. Soon, the ideology engendered vigilantism, which permeated through both social and sectarian sectors of Pakistan and consequently, devoured lives of several innocent Pakistanis.
If Pakistani establishment is supporting the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network (deemed to have affiliations with the Taliban) and has been waiting for the ascendancy of Mullah Umar to Kabul anew as a sole proprietor, it is still indecipherable how the new Taliban rule would be qualitatively better than their previous stint?
Perceptibly, Pakistan might be focusing only on the point that in the history of Afghanistan, the Pashtun (a majority) had a decisive say in Kabul and that say must be revived. Perhaps, Pakistan is blinking the fact that in the post-1991 era, that obsession with ethnic hegemony precipitated the killing of thousands of Afghans in the ensuing internecine war. Further, domination over the ethnic minorities was one of the ambitions of the Taliban that was cashed in on effectively by al Qaeda (as the elimination of Ahmed Shah Masud in September 2001 and of Burhanuddin Rabbani in September 2011 indicated) to seek an anchoring space in Afghanistan — the price of which is still being paid by Afghanistan.
Pakistan must reconcile itself to the fact that the ethnic groups such as the Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, and Turkmen are also a part of Afghan society, and no country including Pakistan and no ethnic group including the Taliban may be permitted to refute the ethnic minorities their rightful place in society and due representation in any legislative set-up in Afghanistan.
Pakistan must understand that the future of Afghanistan lies in its democratization and de-radicalization. That sort of Afghanistan is also in the advantage of Pakistan as the leaning may help the tribes on the Pakistani side of the Durand line to get de-’tribalized’ and join the national mainstream of democracy. In the past, the pattern of government adopted by the Taliban was more a Saudi pattern of governance than anything else. It should be made possible that this time a few socio-political designs be borrowed from Turkey.
Second, the world may not leave Afghanistan at the mercy of Pakistan as a sole external player. That is, in post-2014 Afghanistan, other influential and affluent countries of the region may also secure a role to play in development and stability of Afghanistan. Currently, Afghanistan is a huge politico-economic liability on the U.S.-NATO allies. Afghanistan is in a perpetual need of investors and donors to ameliorate its economic plight. Russia, China and India have something to invest in Afghanistan. On the contrary, Pakistan’s economic insufficiency may prove a major obstacle in that way.
Pakistan would be wary of being encircled by India if India were given a role to play in Afghanistan. Pertaining to the situation in Afghanistan, India enjoys an edge over Pakistan because of at least two reasons. First, India’s economy is bigger and hence, it can afford an investment in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Secondly, over the years, India has forged better rapport with non-Pashtun ethnic groups in Afghanistan. The same is true for Russia. Perceivably, it would be painful for the security establishment of Pakistan to disown its strategic asset — the Taliban. Nevertheless, the time is ripe for Pakistan to revisit its strategic-depth policy in Afghanistan and fathom how much latitude could be voluntarily offered to other regional players. Further, Pakistan must transform its perception on Afghanistan from how to influence Afghanistan ethnically (the Pashtun factor) to how to charm Afghanistan economically.
Instead of preparing itself for the role of a sole external power in Afghanistan, Pakistan must prefer Afghanistan to be a shared politico-economic responsibility of regional and international players. That strategy will save Pakistan from any reprisal in case another 9/11 visits the world. Further, if Pakistan supports democracy in Afghanistan and carves out a leeway for other countries to function there, the age of Qaeda in the region will be over.
The writer is a freelance columnist for the Daily Times Pakistan. The article was published in the Pakistani daily on July 18, 2012.