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Pak-Afghan relations will experience a new era of endurance as both the states have agreed upon bilateral agreement i.e. Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). Certainly this can be viewed as a positive stride because it reflects change in Kabul’s acrimonious tone towards Pakistan. This framework will reinforce mutual trust and enhance bilateral engagements which is need of the hour.
Afghanistan-Pakistan have remained hostile for decades and have always blamed each other for rancorous activities on either side of the border. To end this hostility, framework like APAPPS seems to be a viable option to counter challenges in the way of working relations between both the states.
Afghanistan’s rigid stance towards Pakistan for decades has provided space to outsiders to exploit the relations with its immediate neighbor. Afghanistan at the moment is playing in the hands of peripheral powers. US narrative has always been that they’ll find solution of Afghanistan through war. They have once again proved their policy by sending more soldiers and increasing air strikes in Afghanistan. According to Imtiaz Gul,
“The new Trump policy will be extremely difficult thing to implement if not disastrous it overlooks certain basic ground realities and the ground reality is that region is currently divided into two major blocks. One block comprises India, Afghanistan and the US. The other block comprises; Pakistan, China, Russia, Turkey and Iran. These countries have their own view on how to move ahead with the peace process in Afghanistan whereas Trump seems to be going for military solution which means he is trying to invest more in security crises of Afghanistan just because when more troops will come this will perpetuate and precipitate security crises in Afghanistan by drawing adverse reaction from Taliban. It will raise alarm inside Pakistan which has been doing what it can on counter terrorism front and it has aligned its policies with those of Russia, China, Turkey and Iran. And the new Trump policy will also raise alarm because the 12000 troops will be seen as an attempt to keep an eye on Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran with the support of India. India is being raised as regional hegemon in support of the US policies in the region. New policy is basically recipe to continued precipitation of the security crises in Afghanistan and until both blocks align their policies to seek regionally driven consensus solution for Afghanistan. It will be very difficult for peace to return in Afghanistan.”
Thus, US is not in favor of talks with Taliban. Because when Pakistan mediated a dialogue in Murree it was halted by the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Omer and when second time it was initiated Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed in a drone attack. Such episodes question honesty of US for peace in Afghanistan. Furthermore, US has sidelined Pakistan in Afghanistan and by giving India a big role in Afghanistan automatically create suspicion. US is constantly playing role of spoiler in Peacemaking process.
In this backdrop it is necessary for Pakistan and Afghanistan to enhance their relations, not just for the peace and security of their own states but of the region as well. Pakistan is a key player thus, it has to reach to Russia, China, and Iran to counter US and India in Afghanistan. By creating this block even if Pakistan distance from the US; Pakistan may survive diplomatically. India’s soft power thrust and the US influence can be countered in number of ways. Therefore, question arises, which particular platforms can be used in order to enhance and enrich relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and rest of the region?
Firstly, for peace, prosperity and stability of Afghanistan, key role has to be played by Afghans they may not be political leaders rather leaders from society respected by all clans and ethnic groups. People having credibility with everyone in Afghanistan. For decades Afghanistan has been used as a battleground for strategic wars by external powers. It is home to multiethnic communities which has led to tug of war between them with the support of external powers which has caused immense devastation. Presently, Peacemaking activities can only be successful if Afghan leaders avoid to repeat past mistakes i.e. playing in the hands of external powers. All the respected and notable leaders of ethnic communities’ have to spread message to remain tolerant towards other communities. Key to success is, strength must be found within a pluralistic environment of Afghanistan. Emphasis of such leaders must remain on inclusion of all ethnic groups rather than exclusion. Pushtoons, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras etc. should work together for rebuilding Afghanistan. Inevitably vacuum will be filled which has always been exploited by the external powers.
Secondly, without Pakistan’s support, peace and stability cannot be established in Afghanistan. It is necessary for both the states to consolidate efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan. The US and Afghanistan have eventually realized and consider Pakistan as partner instead of hurdle in the resolution of Afghan conflict. APAPPS is a way forward in enhancing relations and finding solutions to Pak-Afghan issues. For success of APAPPS it is necessary to end blame game and accusations in terms of tolerance to sanctuaries. It is one of the 7 principles of APAPPS as well. Time has come to take honest and effective measures to address the terrorist sanctuaries on whichever side they are because both the states are acutely affected by terrorism.
Refugee repatriation is also one of the principle of APAPPS. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are more than 5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. There are around 2.4 million registered Afghan refugees holding proof of Registration cards (PoR). And there are more than 2.4 million undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan. A final decision on repatriation of Afghan refugees will be taken after the General Elections 2018. A viable option can be, Pakistan and Afghanistan with the help of UNHCR must prepare timeline for repatriation of refugees. Generally return remains low but that should not lead to undignified and forced return. Voluntary and dignified returns should be preferred by Pakistan by respecting international standards in treatment of refugees.
Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan has also launched Allama Muhammad Iqbal Scholarship Programme for Afghan National Students under which 3000 scholarships will be awarded in various fields including Medicine, Engineering, Agriculture, and Management and Computer science etc. It will increase people to people contact between two brotherly states. It covers Living Allowance, Book Allowance, and Hostel Dues & University Tuition fee. These scholarships are being offered at Graduate level, Post graduate level and PhD level. The main objective of these scholarship is, “To sponsor Afghan students for quality education and to promote human resource development for reconstruction of Afghanistan.”
Joint economic development is another principle of APAPPS. Economically both the states can benefit from each other. Pakistan is the shortest and quickest trade route for Afghanistan and Pakistan is the largest trading partner of Afghanistan. Due to security issues, Poor connectivity and infrastructure created hurdles for economic prosperity. Agreement on APAPPS proves initiation of breaking of ice between the two states. To boost connectivity Quetta-Kandahar-Herat and Peshawar-Jalalabad railroad projects are expedient. Moreover, both states have also agreed to move forward on Chaman-Kandahar-Herat railway line, Peshawar-Kabul Motorway, and other connectivity projects.
Thirdly, for shared prosperity, regional cooperation remains a strong determinant. Afghanistan can play role of regional land-bridge. As compared to other substitute routes, Afghanistan can provide the shortest and most cost-effective routes for roads, railroads, pipelines and electricity transmission lines between Central Asia and South Asia. Therefore development of infrastructure in Afghanistan can connect two vital regions i.e. South Asia and Central Asia. And all the states can benefit from it, in terms of trade, energy, tourism, people to people contact etc.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will also increase regional connectivity across South and Central Asia. Pakistan’s infrastructure developments, supported by CPEC, can function as a mechanism to provide Afghanistan and the Central Asian states access to the Arabian Sea and thus potentially lead to higher regional trade volumes. CASA-1000 project (Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Program) is one of the direct linkages between South Asia and Central Asia. CASA-1000 is a landmark energy export agreement between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (two Central Asian and two South Asian countries).
Iran as China, Pakistan and Russia is equally playing constructive role by getting engaged in various developmental and infrastructural projects e.g. Five-Nation Railway Corridor is a project connecting China with Iran through Afghanistan and two Central Asian states (Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan). Central Asian states are also part of various projects for instance, TAP-500-Kv (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan) energy transmission project is one of the projects. It will transfer electricity from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
More regional ventures can be boosted by Strategic Partnership of Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran. This strategic partnership can be a game changer. This regional alliance clearly favor the inclusion of the Taliban in the Afghan government. According to New York Times Taliban have support of 1/3 of Afghanistan population. People of Afghanistan support them because they are resisting foreign presence. Additionally, Taliban have achieved a number of diplomatic successes such as having direct contacts with major regional powers i.e. Russia and China. All these states are in favor of political solution of Afghan conflict as contrary to US solution i.e. to win war through military means. Common objective of Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and Taliban can be to push out US from Afghanistan. Secondly, this strategic partnership can also engage with Taliban to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban for the peace and prosperity of Afghanistan and the region. Moreover, this partnership can tackle the menace of ISIS in Afghanistan and rest of the region. As, ISIS is a common enemy of Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, and even Taliban. It is necessary to formulate strategy to keep out ISIS from the region because to counter Strategic Partnership of Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran; ISIS can be used as US proxy in Afghanistan to reverse its defeat.
It is established that gun is not solution of Afghan conflict. Because if it was to be solution then Afghan conflict would have resolved years ago. Temporary relief is possible with gun but long term effect can only be created when Afghans fighting with each other sit across the table and talk to each other. Presently, Afghanistan is in the clutches of the US and for the US defeating Taliban through war is solution to Afghan conflict. Taliban belong to Afghanistan and they have equal share in their state as other communities therefore, Afghans have to make conscious decision whether to play in the hands of external powers or eliminate differences among them and rebuild Afghanistan.
Afghanistan conflict can be resolved through diplomatic efforts of international community. All the regional players (Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Central Asian Republics) are ready to facilitate peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban. Afghan government initiative of peace talks with Taliban, accepting them as political party and APAPPS are welcoming steps.
This article was first published in the Startegic Analysis Forum.