Can the idealist Afghanistan & realist Pakistan cooperate?

On Nov 09, 2015 – 13:42

It seems that Afghanistan and Pakistan are perennially unwilling to see eye to eye. The conflict between the two neighbor states has become a protracted conflict. As the regional situation is further deteriorating, it becomes necessary to question whether there is hope for cooperation and de-escalation of the conflict.  To this end, it is necessary to analyze the growing narrative of animosity that is spurring from within both nations. In particular, it begs to question what images both countries have of each other? Commend

It doesn’t take long to see that the varnished narrative in both nations is one of mistrust and misinterpretation. These perceptions partly developed because of legacies started 150 years ago when the region was controlled by the British Empire and partly because of the alliance system under the city states rulers prior to the British Presence.

It could be more than these two and that is all about modern definition of power; how to apply virtues and vices to survive and win. It can be said in the Machiavellian sense that men have always been ungrateful and deceivers. They always shunt danger and are greedy for profit. Perhaps this is why both countries are trying not to be good. Are Afghanistan and Pakistan really trying not to coexist? Are Afghanistan and Pakistan ready to embrace the unvarnished truth of the current condition or continue to perpetuate an imaginary conception of each other?

No need to go far in the history of conflict in the region between the old city states when they were friends on Wednesday, enemy on Thursday and again friends on Friday praying together, but let’s look at the very recent history of both countries policies and decision making process since mid-20th century. Pakistan since its birth and Afghanistan were on the road towards virtual rapture; neither real friends nor real enemies, reacting towards incidents.

Pakistan blames Afghanistan for playing a dubious role during creation of Pakistan; tried to stop Pakistan from membership of United Nations. Later on, Afghanistan became the center of pakhtoonistan separatist movement and acted aggressively along borders with a military move in September 1960. Finally, According to Pakistan, Afghanistan has always favored the other neighbors over Pakistan, namely Iran and India.

Afghanistan claims that the Afghan attitude and the government of Afghanistan policy have always been friendly towards Pakistan. For instance, during three Pakistan wars Afghanistan stayed neutral with strong sympathy to Pakistan. In 1969-1971 in spite of great internal turmoil in Pakistan, Afghanistan did not attempt to destabilize the internal security of Pakistan, but Pakistan has always dishonored its words and promises such as commitments in Geneva Accord, Islamabad Accord, Peshawar Accord and transit agreement with Afghanistan.

The reality of the last four decades in the region has been completely different from the above narratives. The Soviet Union military intervention in Afghanistan changed the power politics and the ability of both countries. Pakistan embraced political realism and survival mentality in Machiavellian sense: perceiving the international system as is. For Pakistan politics and power became a zero-sum game and their politicians adapted themselves competitively to this short, nasty and brutish environment.

Afghanistan on the other hand has looked at the international system in ultra-liberal perspective and framed its worldview idealistically. Its politicians having more faith on the so called international community rather than its internal power. Afghanistan has strived to integrate into the international system by relying first on Former Soviet Union and recently the United States; talking of idealist agendas that are foreign to the nation, liberal reforms before traditional values, radical change that would somehow bring peace and prosperity to the whole nation.

Regardless of what assumption both countries may have, what really matter is to play the cards properly. In this case both countries frequently and repeatedly have played the wrong cards against each other in the conflict. Pakistan right after the Soviet intervention redirected its ties from the existing Afghan government to close ties with the exiled Mujahidin factions based in Peshawar. Since then Pakistan cannot deny interfering in the Afghans affairs. In addition to Geneva Accord signed between Afghanistan-Pakistan-United Sates and USSR, a bilateral agreement was signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan pledging non-intervention and non-interference in each other affairs, but not respected.

Pakistan, during the Soviet presence 1980s and during Mujahidin in 1990 never hid its interference in the Afghan affairs. On September 30th 1995, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Sardar Aseff Ahmad Ali publicly said that “ Government of President Burhanddin Rabani be removed.”; A government which was the outcome of Peshawar and Islamabad accords, widely sponsored and supported by the Pakistani government. The result was that a year later the Taliban overthrew Rabanni’s government in a decisive military victory. Therefore Pakistan in the last 40 years could not adopt a balanced approached towards the Afghan conflict.

Similarly, Afghanistan cannot deny of its unpleasant behaviors discomforting Pakistan by hosting twice large military presence in its territory (Soviet Union and United States ) both super powers sympathizers with India. In Pakistan’s politics and power relations there is no room and consideration for this, as they calculate in Machiavellian style applying vices and virtues to win.

The lesson of notable Afghan “successes” on defeating 25 empires in the last two and half centuries has proved to not intervene in this region unless you are prepared to remain involved forever which certainly neither the United States and its allies nor the (China-Russia-Pakistan) are prepared for this.

Therefore, time has come to a point that Afghanistan and Pakistan can no longer go on how they have lived as neighbors so far. They must depart this point and shift on how they ought to live. They need to think what ought to be done. Reaching decisions on how to live together might be hard but not impossible. Both states need to look at the dangers which the region is plunging into: in the last fourteen years this region has become home to a new generation of violent extremists even more dangerous than the al-Qaeda thugs whom America entered Afghanistan to eradicate.

Both countries (Afghanistan & Pakistan) are sharing the largest ethnic group of the population in the region that socially, politically and economically have legitimate grievances and moving towards more acute poverty which can be a breeding ground for the international terrorists. The United States, Russia and China are competing into a sort of battle to form new global power system which affect the region negatively. Finally, organized crime is on the rise in the region.

The lessons of the volatile situation on the ground in Afghanistan and in Pakistan dictate that military operation is not the solution, but understanding of the reality and cooperation is the definite and only mechanism to overcome the problems.

To do so, Afghanistan and Pakistan have to retreat back to their positions prior to 1979 in which both countries relatively had embraced more anti-war elements in the region. Both countries have to stop the anachronism game of the Pashtuns and unresolvable Durand Line dispute; it belongs neither to Pakistan nor to Afghanistan, it belongs to the people who are attached and living along the territory. This issue has to be left for next generation to deal with. Pakistan should redirect its ties with the Afghan government not with non-state actors. Afghanistan is to balance its relations with India, Iran and United States, Afghanistan to address political and economic grievances of its large segment of the population which is dissatisfied with power sharing mechanism that has been in place since 2001.

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