Afghan pullout: Pakistan needs to revise its role

Published: July 13, 2011

Once the US pulls out, Pakistan must be on the right side of history. That means that we must consider and respect the needs and wishes of the Afghan people. PHOTO: AFP

Opinion pages are full of analysis emphasising Pakistan’s role in bringing to an end the Afghan conflict, without whom, it is argued, the negotiations are bound to fail.

The Pakistani establishment however continues with its short term, self defeating policies towards our neighbouring country. As a result our region will remain unstable and insecure after the United States (US) and its allies depart.

Pakistan wants to ensure that the Afghan government remains pliant to its strategic needs. We want any negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict to include the Taliban, but on our own terms, keeping us in the loop. Non-Pashtun political and military leaders are not trusted by the Pakistani establishment; as a result we have effectively alienated large swaths of the country.

The National Movement, led by Amrullah Saleh, a critic of Pakistani influence is gathering support amongst the young and the educated.

One man’s terrorist

The Afghan Taliban are recognised as freedom fighters in much of Pakistan. However, in Afghanistan itself, there is little evidence for popular support for the Taliban. Even in the Pashtun belts along the eastern borders with Pakistan and the south east, their popularity reaches 40 per cent (Afghan police forces don’t fare much better). Rather than popular support, the Taliban extract support through coercion, while criticism is silenced with the threat of violence.

What’s India got to do with it?

Pakistan’s soft corner (for lack of a better phrase) for the Taliban is borne out of its fear of encirclement by India. The Northern Alliance and non-Pashtuns are viewed as sympathetic towards Indian interests. The ISAF sponsored build up of the Afghan military, manned by non-Pashtuns is also viewed as threatening Pakistani interests.

People are the priority

The only relationship that Pakistan should emphasise on is with the Afghan people. Influence through proxies such as the Taliban is problematic as most Afghans, especially in the north and the west view Pakistan as part of the problem, rather than solution.

The limitation of Pakistani policy towards Afghanistan is predicated on Afghanistan’s inability to secure itself, develop its economy and make decisions independently.

In many ways these measures are unnecessary and frankly pointless – unnecessary because an entire generation of Afghans, who grew up, attended school and colleges, bought property and ran businesses in Pakistan, will be influenced accordingly. The geography of the region also benefits us as Afghan trade make their way across Pakistan and onwards via our ports. Afghan markets are full of Pakistani products.

In addition, these policies are pointless as American, or for that matter Indian, influence cannot be managed to our liking. America is the world’s largest economy and given recent history any Afghan government will remain engaged with her to insure aid flows, support and investment. India is a growing regional economy, and Afghanistan needs all the economic support it can get. Expecting her to shun Indian support on our behalf doesn’t endear us to the Afghan people.

So what must we do?

Pakistan must be on the right side of history. That means that we must consider and respect the needs and wishes of the Afghan people. The Taliban may not be popular, but neither is Hamid Karzai. Our negotiations with non-state actors and individuals are unsustainable in the long-run, and risks inflaming public opinion against us.

Efforts should be made to resolve differences and grievances with non-Pashtun groups. If attempts have already been made, I apologise for my ignorance. If not, then the question is why not?

Importantly, what is often overlooked is the dispute over the Durand Line. Afghanistan still disputes the Durand Line as a working international boundary. Resolution of this issue once and for all, rather than brushing it under the diplomatic table would help calm the Pakistani establishment’s fears of an unfriendly Afghan government stirring up trouble along the border.

As for negotiations, it’s obvious that in the most conflict ridden parts of Afghanistan, the east and the south east, local communities are between a rock and a hard place. Both ISAF and the Taliban are unpopular. Communities want to see an end to violence. Pakistan should do what it can to facilitate this process, but do so without taking sides overtly or covertly.

If not then we will return to the early 1990s. The West will pump money from a distance into a dysfunctional government in Kabul. Ethnic and regional factions will divide the country up, and Pakistan will be accused of interfering and pushing its agenda in another country.

After all, treating the Afghan’s in the same way, we accuse the US of treating us, is not going to win us many Afghan friends.


Syed Nadir El Edroos

Nadir teaches Economics at Bellerbys College, London and is interested in Pakistani politics and current affairs. He tweets @needroos (

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

  • Venkata Appa Rao

    Great and insightful Article.It is worth pasting on the wall in the bedrooms of policy Makers for being reminded on daily basis for taking balanced actions which will ultimately be of help to sovle a burning problem started as usual by Britishers and left to the succeeding Generations as an unsolvable Problem for the general public of Afghanisthan to suffer silently.

    It is a must read. I would like to congratulate the auther for this great article.Recommend

  • Usman Ahmad

    What are the state actors in Afghanistan? and if US is talking to Taliban why shouldn’t we? The solution is to talk to Taliban. ‘Non-state actors’..hmm hypothetically it looks good but practicaly the usage of this term is meaningless, short-sighted and devoid of realism. You may not like the idea of talking to Taliban but so does the US. The conflict has to end. It has already lingered on for years and the only solution is..yeah right…you already know itand shah ji one last advice (read muft mashwara) absorbing too much Western tabloid journalism usually skews one’s views about Afghanistan.Recommend

  • Maria

    Bland, cliche-ridden attempt at “analysis” which sadly passes as informed comment these days. Recommend

  • Parvez

    Who said US is leaving. They will reduce some troops and pull the rest to newly built forts.Rest of the country will be run by warlords. Do you see this Mr. Syed. Now redo your analysis.Recommend

  • http://India Feroz

    The effectiveness of a country’s policies towards another will be known by the attitude of the people towards it. Let some reputable market research agency do a scientific survey across Afghanistan to find out which are the most popular and least popular nations there and why. The results will tell Pakistan whether it is following a suicidal course or is on a winning home run there. No need to speculate and fantasize without access to hard facts. Recommend

  • Zulfiqar Haider

    Excellent work Nadir. Your conclusion says it all. If we expect US to treat us good then we should treat Afghanistan in a way that our image gets better in the eyes of those who consider us their enemies.Recommend

  • faraz

    Taliban in Afghanistan were state actors before US invasion, while Taliban in Pakistan are terrorist groups that have no legitimacy and they don’t represent any segment of the population. State authority in Pakistan cannot be surrendered to such fascist groups, or the country will fragment.Recommend