Who is the real winner in Af-Pak tensions?

Published: February 26, 2017
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Afghanistan needs to realise that it cannot beat the same decade old drum of “Pakistan harbouring terrorists against Afghanistan”. PHOTO: AFP.

Recently, when Pakistan decided to move heavy artillery towards the Afghan border, many wondered if a full-scale war was about to be initiated between the two countries. Surprisingly, Kabul refrained from retaliating when Pakistani forces shelled terror camps on the other side of the border.

It was hard to fathom such an action as Afghanistan has always been considered “a brotherly neighbour”. Where India has always remained our nemesis, Afghanistan now might well be pilfering the former’s title of being our “arch rival”.

So how did we end up in this mess where brothers have turned into fierce rivals?

Firstly, since 2001, both the countries have fuelled a never-ending cycle of blame game. This back and forth blame game was activated soon after major attacks took place in both countries. Even though Pakistan’s blame is divided between Afghanistan and India, Afghanistan’s current and only scapegoat is Pakistan.

Secondly, the shift in regional alliances has also somewhat contributed in souring these ties. While Hamid Karzai was less explicit in his support for India, President Ashraf Ghani, on the other hand, has embraced the country with open arms. He holds India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “brother replacement” for Pakistan. The shifting of these alliances was witnessed recently in a couple of high-profile meetings in India and Russia.

When the Heart of Asia conference was organised in Amritsar last year, Afghanistan not only joined hands with India in shaming Pakistan and calling it a ‘facilitator of terror’, it also refused a generous amount of financial aid from Islamabad.

It seemed as if President Ghani was more than okay to play Modi’s sidekick in supposedly isolating Pakistan on the global stage – an Indian policy still far from fruition. Nonetheless, Afghanistan’s stand surely angered Pakistan.

Kabul was irked by Russia organising a trilateral moot on Afghanistan in Moscow, inviting only China and Pakistan to discuss the imminent rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Afghanistan. Afghanistan and the US blamed Russia as well as Pakistan for extending ties with the Taliban and interfering in Kabul’s internal matters. As a result, Moscow agreed to invite Afghanistan, India and Iran for further summits.

It seems that the recent spate of terror attacks in Pakistan provided Islamabad with an opportunity to finally call Kabul out on its alleged support for the anti-Pakistan terror groups, especially Tehreek-e-Taliban’s (TTP) fraction, Jamaatul Ahrar. Interestingly, Kabul has also made similar claims of Islamabad supporting the anti-Afghanistan Haqqani network and the Taliban.

But Pakistan went one step further this time. It not only blamed Kabul and sealed the Torkham border, but also bombarded terror camps on the other side. On a diplomatic front, Pakistan handed over a list of 76 wanted terrorists from Kabul who Islamabad alleges are operating from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. In a tit-for-tat move, Afghanistan also gave a list of its own, naming more than 80 high-profile leaders of the Taliban and the Haqqani network which it claims are based in Pakistan.

What came as a surprise this time around was the restraint shown by Kabul. At a recent Track 1.5/II diplomacy meeting in Kabul – attended by members of the Pakistan and Afghan civil society, politicians and security officials – the Afghan delegation admitted to have overused the “blame game” tactic. Furthermore, they planned to not only show restraint in the future but also to engage in effective confidence building dialogues.

This paradigm shift in Kabul should be viewed positively by Pakistan, because Taliban’s umbrella force – under which TTP, Jamaatul Ahrar, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and others are operating – is a common enemy for both the countries. Therefore, why can’t both countries work together against their mutual enemies?

From a security stand point, the only winners amid these tensions are the terrorist groups operating from both sides of the borders. Because of the on-going bickering over the past decade and a half, groups such as TTP, al Qaeda, the Haqqani and the Taliban have managed to survive in one form or the other.

Afghanistan needs to realise that it cannot beat the same decade old drum of ‘Pakistan harbouring terrorists against Afghanistan’ anymore, especially since Pakistan has lost more than 60,000 innocent civilians in terror attacks. Pakistan, on the other hand, should also grasp how a well-educated president like Ghani, who always talked about peace between the neighbours, has reached a state where he considers Pakistan nothing but an enemy.

Pakistan is a big and somewhat functional country, unlike Afghanistan. Rather than kneejerk reactions and escalating tensions with Afghanistan, Pakistan should try to regain the lost space through administrative measures that ease life for Afghan refugees, traders, and commoners.

Farooq Yousaf

Farooq Yousaf

The author is a PhD (Politics) Candidate currently pursuing his studies in Australia. He has previously completed his Masters in Public Policy and Conflict Studies from Germany. He also consults Islamabad-based Security think tank, Centre for Research and Security Studies, and occasionally writes for various news and media sources. He is specialising in Indigenous conflict resolution and counter insurgency. He tweets at @faruqyusaf (twitter.com/faruqyusaf?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • mores

    The more Pakistan loses lives to terror the more will Pakistan become a homeland for terror education, propagation and training. Not less. Thus the author’s logic is faulty. 60000 lives lost does not utomatically mean that islamic fascism and terror will become less in Pakistan or less of that will be exported. The reason is simple. Pakistan has specialized itself in blaming non-muslims (esp. India) for all its tragedies and failures. Islam and arabs and muslims are the permanent heroes in Pakistan. Hence more terror deaths in Pakistan only mean more islamic fascism and terorism in and from Pakistan.Recommend

  • Nadeem Rabbani

    Pakistan should be made to call its bluff.Recommend

  • Vineeth Gopalakrishnan

    “While Hamid Karzai was less explicit in his support for India, President Ashraf Ghani, on the other hand, has embraced the country with open arms.” – Wrong. Hamid Karzai was openly allied with India from the start. It was Ashraf Ghani who wanted to start a new chapter in friendly relations with Pakistan when he assumed power. But Pakistan’s cold shoulder and stubbornness in dealing with Afghan concerns on Taliban and the Haqqanis ensured that he had no choice but to ally with India again. In short, Pakistan deserves the entire blame of botching up the chances of normalizing Afghan relations when Ghani opened a window of opportunity at the start of his presidency. This is unsurprising. After all, this is the same way the Pakistani establishment responded to Vajpayee’s and Modi’s overtures too.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    1) Pakistan doesn’t recognize the Afghan Govt as a legitimate Govt. That is why it is supporting Taliban. Shouldn’t you guys ask Taliban to go after TTP? Or, the fact that Taliban and TTP owe allegiance to Mullah Omar and have the same cause, only different targets, stops you?

    If thats the case, Pakistan has chosen not-so-wisely. After supporting the opposite camp and now complaining that Afghan Govt is hobnobbing with India seems naive. If you oppose Afghan Govt’s initiative and support Taliban Terrorists and complain they are now in India’s camp reflects lack of basic analytical skills.

    2) Af-Pak is like India-Pakistan. One a more successful country, far greater resources. You cannot win conventionally, so you adopt sub-conventional means. You say you want peace, but support non-state actors. This is what Pakistan has been doing to India. Pakistan thought circumstances will stay the same and India cannot outmaneuver it in Afghanistan. India’s far greater resources and soft power give it an edge. Pakistan gracefully acts as a buffer to instability in Afghanistan. India has nothing to lose! A few Terror attacks in against Indian consulates is not going to deter India – in fact, India has used such attacks to its advantage!

    Now, India has completed the circle by using its soft power and anti-Pakistan animosity.

    3) Pakistanis for long have been complaining, rather mocking, Afghan Govt is restricted to Kabul and Taliban are gaining ground. If this is the case, expecting Afghan Govt to do anything about the presence of TTP outside Kabul is foolish.

    Lets not forget, how Pakistanis used to proudly claim Afghanistan was a graveyard for empires. Pakistan has been the target for more than a decade now.

    4) History shows us Alexander, Ghaznavi(who looted areas which now is in Pakistan and missiles are named after this man who essentially looted, killed and raped Pakistan’s own ancestors) and many Afghan raiders, entered India via areas under Pakistan’s control. Pakistan doesn’t have a strategic location, but a tragic one(Lets thank Jinnah for this one).

    5) Soft power is a force multiplier. Pakistan has none. India has only soft power in Afghanistan. It builds schools, parliament buildings. Its movies are big hits in Afghanistan. Shah Rukh Khan is a bigger hero in Afghanistan than Raheel Shariff in Pakistan!

    Pakistan has no reply to India’s soft power. Being a semi-autocratic and regressive Islamic country, with moral police ruling the roost(Courts banning Valentines day.. Wonderful use of court’s resources), Pakistan is incapable of competing with India.

    The article should have contained all the above. But, we see the same regurgitated, repetitive, pro-establishment, prejudiced, non-analytical pieces in Pakistani newspapers.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Another piece which is ispr sponsored wrong things, hard to believe the chap has degree from western countries but since he consults for a think tank in Pakistan it’s obvious
    Pakistan is hypocritical as it asks Afghanistan to take action against ttp and funds,trains and feeds the Afghan taliban.So Pakistan get rid of this obsession with India and India centric policy in AfghanistanLook at the benefits of afghanistans people instead of sponsoring terrorismRecommend

  • Komal S

    Sensible article. From the headline i thought the author was going to say ‘India’ as the gainer. President Ghani gave space for Pakistan during his first year, just like Karzai. He gave up and was more pro-active on India’s involvement later. Pakistan has to stop double game, this cannot happen until civilian government has complete control over defense forces.Recommend

  • Sanjay Tandon

    Pakistan getting paid in the same coin by Afghanistan and India. Both have experienced the pain given by terror groups.Recommend

  • Raj

    I have always been telling that, Paksitan will get a tit for tat response from both Afghanistan and India. In the current era one joins with the other to contain the enemy, US joining with India to contain China, China joining with Paksitan to contain India, Russia joinging with China to contain USA etc. etc. So, no one is saint and no one can cry foul over the other. They are all in the same boat. India never cries foul and other countries too never cry foul about such containment. It is only paksitan in the whole world compares everything through india and cries foul at whatever india does. Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Pakistan is a big and somewhat functional country, unlike Afghanistan.
    Rather than kneejerk reactions and escalating tensions with Afghanistan,
    Pakistan should try to regain the lost space through administrative
    measures that ease life for Afghan refugees, traders, and commoners.

    For how long it will remain functional. The purpose of the CPEC road network is to seek chinese support for the unity of the people of KPK and Baluchistan with Punjab and discouraging India taking hostile actions. The Sharifs are more or less ready to leave the country now that the heat is on by the judiciary against their amassed wealth.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    In the current era one joins with the other to contain the enemy, US
    joining with India to contain China, China joining with Paksitan to
    contain India, Russia joinging with China to contain USA etc. etc. So,
    no one is saint and no one can cry foul over the other. They are all in
    the same boat. India never cries foul and other countries too never
    cry foul about such containment.

    Careful, you are going in circle with your illusions. Try to be realistic, no one is plotting against the adversary with the help of an adversary. The Trumpers are in trouble while the chinese are worried about their economy and the Russians are engaged in ukraine and Syria hoping to get out of the European sanctions and Indian Modi Sarkar is worried about the kashmiris insurgency and the domestic economy which is being threatened by the Trumpers and not to forget the hit and run crime against the Indian migrants in the USA.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Raj

    Agreed.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    The author carefully avoids mentioning Pakistan’s dozen year plus support for its Good Taliban terrorist proxies attacking Afghanistan from their Pakistani supported FATA safe havens! Too bad for Pakistan that the world knows the truth of Pakistani duplicity!Recommend