Newspaper Articles

Pak-Afghan relations — by Agha H Amin

I fail to understand how some of the country’s leading analysts can dub Afghanistan as being Pakistan’s backyard. Afghanistan is an independent state that boasts a great history. Seen in this context, how would Pakistanis feel if India tried to coin Pakistan as its backyard?
Since Pakistan’s foreign minister does not control a substantial part of Pakistan’s foreign policy — the part that concerns Afghanistan and India — Pakistan’s army chief, General Kayani is also visiting Washington for a Pak-US strategic dialogue.

Pakistan’s military establishment has survived and thrived because of Afghanistan’s ongoing wars since 1979. The first of these wars started in December 1979 and then entered a new phase after 9/11. In both cases, the Pakistani military juntas of Zia and Musharraf who were internationally, as well as domestically, isolated orphans, found godfathers in the US. Pakistan was thus, if not a banana republic, a pistachio republic. The Pakistani military junta of General Zia, with the stated aim of jihad and the real aim of political survival, had chosen to follow a policy of active interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs as a Saudi or US proxy back in 1979-88.

One of the country’s leading analysts, Syed Talat Hussain, dubs Afghanistan as Pakistan’s backyard (‘Pakistan’s new Afghanistan outlook’, Daily Times, March 18, 2010). Afghanistan is an independent state that boasts a great history. Seen in this context, how would Pakistanis feel if India tried to coin Pakistan as its backyard? How can Pakistan or, for that matter, any of Afghanistan’s neighbours be allowed to have a louder voice in Afghanistan than the country itself? One may suggest that any analyst who says so is hinting towards crude and anachronistic concepts like ‘strategic depth’.

One could hypothesise that Afghanistan might just prove to be Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel if Pakistan continues to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs through proxy disturbances and wars. This may not happen in the immediate future, but when the US withdraws from Afghanistan or if the US decides to embark on another Afghan strategy that views Pakistan as part of the problem rather than a solution. As they say, history does not move in straight lines.

Lately, Pakistan’s establishment rediscovered the sanctity of the Afghan border, badly shaken by a tribal war in FATA and blamed India, Israel and even the US and NATO for aiding anti-Pakistan groups like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). These are all acts that Pakistan itself has actually been doing all along in Afghanistan, right from 1978.

One is at a loss to understand which comprehensive border planning Mr Talat Hussain is talking about when referring to the Pak-Afghan border? The entire 800 km Pak-Afghan border in the Pakistani Balochistan province has sparse Pakistani military presence and the Taliban from Kandahar, Helmand and Kabul — where the vast bulk of the US forces are stationed — move freely, back and forth. Here I am referring to the so-called ‘good’ Taliban.

The ongoing FATA operation by the Pakistan Army has, in no way, attacked the vast bulk of the Taliban based in Afghanistan, the FATA Taliban being a mere five to six percent of the total mass of the Taliban. Even the US, despite much trumpeting and bravado, has hardly touched any of the Taliban based in south Afghanistan, apart from a few symbolic media efforts like in Marjah. The US policy in Afghanistan seems ambiguous. Does the US see the Taliban in south Afghanistan as future proxies against Iran, Russia, Central Asian Republics and even China?

It is again debatable to state that the Pakistani military presence in FATA is a position of strength when all along, from Operation Curzon in 1948, to regular army withdrawals from FATA till the 2003 Musharraf quixotic FATA faux pas, FATA was controlled by the Pakistani state without a single regular soldier. And, above all, this area called FATA was Pakistan’s major logistic and military base in aiding insurgents called the mujahideen who fought against the de facto government in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1992.

The hard reality that the Pakistani establishment needs to understand is that the role of Pakistan may not be decisive or even central in Afghanistan’s future. Pakistan needs to concentrate seriously on its internal issues, which are social justice and equality.

Not much should be expected from the forthcoming US-Pakistan strategic dialogue. Pakistan needs an internal dialogue, which is sadly non-existent.

The writer has authored several books and can be reached at pavocavalry@gmail.com

Source: Daily Times