Islamabad-Kabul rapprochement

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 19.11.14

In Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, the word Pak-Afghan is still wanting in articulating the
true nature of the Islamabad-Kabul relationship in both bilateral and multilateral contexts. In
Pakistan, Afghanistan is still seen as two parts coalesced together: first comes Kabul with
the north one-third of Afghanistan, and second comes the rest comprising the south two-
thirds of Afghanistan. That is why there is preference for the compound word Islamabad-
Kabul, which should be seen in the context of rapprochement.  

There are no gold mines in Afghanistan to fetch benefit from. Instead, Islamabad is
interested in reducing its losses vis-à-vis the gains Delhi craves to reap. Secondly,
Islamabad claims that Pakistan has sacrificed more for Afghanistan than India has done for
it despite the fact that Kabul has remained historically pro-India (even in the post-partition
phase of the subcontinent).

The recent (maiden) visit of President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan is a significant one.
Kabul must have perceived that Islamabad did not (actively) promote those (the Taliban)
who could disrupt the elections in Afghanistan. The elections took place smoothly. Abdullah
Abdullah must also be happy with Pakistan’s recent performance, the kind that be called
neutral. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s former president, must be viewing how things unfold in
his absence from the helm of affairs.

Ghani is different from Karzai in at least two ways: first, he is not sceptical about the
perceived role of Pakistan in Afghanistan, especially after 2014. One can argue that Karzai
was initially also not a cynic until subsequent events proved otherwise. Secondly, Ghani
sees the future of Afghanistan through an economic lens. However, like Karzai, Ghani is
faced with two major challenges at home: first, rampant corruption in government and,
second, terrorism. Ghani must envision that two challenges at least can be overcome with
the help of Islamabad: one is the economy and the other is terrorism.

Being an economic expert, Ghani must be envisioning the future of Afghanistan as
dependent critically on its financial stability. Furthermore, the financial independence of
Afghanistan is the prerequisite for having an independent and Taliban-free country.
Landlocked Afghanistan is justified to demand more transit facilities from Pakistan, be they
the transport route from Karachi port or the Wagah border in Lahore. It is also expected
that Ghani will demand more trade with India in his forthcoming visit to Delhi. Interestingly,
both Islamabad and Delhi are vying for unhindered access to Central Asian trade routes
through Afghanistan. Primarily, Pakistan wants to import energy (gas and electricity)
whereas India desires to export its goods.

Being a well-rounded Afghan politician now, Ghani must see the future of Afghanistan also
in its devising a formula to address the security concerns of Pakistan. This is the area
where a major change has appeared. President Ghani is allowing for Afghan security forces
to be trained by Pakistan’s security forces. This move is to dispel the impression that Kabul
is interested in having forces considered unfriendly by Islamabad on the Durand Line.
However, there is another dimension to this move. Islamabad has been asked (or allowed)
to prepare Afghan forces that will fight against the expected Taliban insurgency in the post-
2014 phase of Afghanistan. This aspect of the move may be thought of as killing two birds
with one stone.

It is now apparent that the US is the biggest external stakeholder in Afghanistan in the post-
2014 phase. It is also apparent that the US demands from Pakistan that some things not be
done and some things be done. What Pakistan is not supposed to do has been conveyed
to Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif before his seven days’ visit
to the US. General Sharif faced an embarrassing moment when he was told publicly
(through the media) that Pakistan had been using terrorist proxies to interfere in
Afghanistan and India’s internal affairs. This annoyance was conveyed before the
beginning of the visit, though certain lame excuses were offered afterwards to compensate
for the Pentagon report released. The seven-day long visit is indicative of many more
discussions and offers to express what Pakistan should do immediately to ensure the safe
departure of the remaining foreign forces and their military hardware and equipment from
Afghanistan. Similarly, General Sharif may be told what Pakistan should do from 2015
onward.

By undertaking Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan had already expressed that its resolve lay
on one side only: eradicating the sanctuaries of the Taliban. The operation did play a role
in hastening the process of the Islamabad-Kabul settlement. However, in the light of the
Pentagon report, there is another aspect of Operation Zarb-e-Azb that is required: handling
the terrorists who plotted the Mumbai massacre in 2008. India has tied its cooperation with
Pakistan to bringing the plotters to justice first. The US also wants Pakistan to cross this
bridge. During his current visit to the US, General Sharif must be under pressure on this
account. One of the reasons behind this is that India cannot be left out of the Afghan
equation. If India is ready to invest in Afghanistan and play its role in its building and
stability, it cannot be refused. It also seems that Pakistan has also matured its thinking and
perception about India’s presence in Afghanistan. In other words, Islamabad has also
become desensitised towards Delhi-Kabul unity.

The real test for the Islamabad-Kabul entente will take place after December 31. By that
time, not only will Operation Zarb-e-Azb have ended but also foreign forces would have
started vacating Afghanistan. By that time, Ghani would also have visited Delhi.

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