THE worsening Pak-Afghan relations, that came down after a short interlude of cooperation in fighting terrorism and exchange of information, have many implications for Pakistan. In many ways we are back to square one. The collapse of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban that had come into existence through the good offices of Pakistan, is already blamed on Pakistan despite the fact that it was the Afghan National Directorate of Security that revealed the information about the death of Mullah Omar some time ago.
That news that was not known to many, took away the legitimacy of the Taliban negotiating delegation who was sitting at the negotiation table claiming to have Mullah Omar’s support. Afghan President Ashraf Abdul Ghani chose to blame Pakistan and at the same time the US has been sending envoys to pressurize Pakistan to initiate new peace talks though all who have followed the developments in Afghanistan since then could know that there is hardly any chance for that in the near future if at all. Dreaming about peace talks to provide stability for the US-sponsored Ashraf Ghani is an irrational reaction of the US government and their decision to extend the stay of the coalition forces is a desperate attempt to secure their vested interest. The root cause of the problem is that US and NATO could not achieve in 14 years of warfare and a colossal expenditure of $ 3 trillion or more what they now try to do within another year. The history of Afghanistan is known to all; the government even in the time of King Zahir Shah never maintained its writ on the whole of Afghanistan. Management in Afghanistan is through its historical tribal and jirga system known as Loya Jirga. The King always had his writ on Kabul and its adjoining areas not whole of Afghanistan where now tribal Maliks and war lords have control who are not in favour of foreign forces occupying any territory in Afghanistan. Hence US should rather have made an exit strategy for face saving than asking Pakistan to do more which Pakistan cannot do because it is not a doable task on earth. Anotherdevelopment strengthening our above given logic is the fresh flaring up of violence in Afghanistan by the Taliban that exposes the weakness of the ANA and the Afghan government. Kunduz, Badakhshan, Ghazni and many other places where the Taliban are establishing their foothold vividly illustrate the failure of the post-Karzai political arrangement.
Of course, the blame for that is put on Pakistan as well. President Obama who had pledged to finish the wars he had inherited, changed his stand and announced the extension of US military presence in Afghanistan until 2017, thus illustrating the American failure. Even for this failure Pakistan has been blamed; if not officially but then by a recent article in theWashington Post. West must understand that the Afghan Taliban is an independent indigenous Afghan movement that has ‘the end of western occupation in their country’ as its first aim. For many years they have been refusing to talk peace at all, and then they refused to talk to the Afghan government of Karzai and Ghani both of whom they consider to be American stooges. While Mr. Karzai had been hand-picked during the Bonn conference in 2001 and later been given approval by questionable Presidential elections, Mr. Ghani has been hand-picked as much and approved in the same way. The media in the west has already exposed the corruption involved in the Afghan war that was going on through contractors belonging to important personalities who were outsourced not only logistic support jobs but even the administration of prisons and personnel to siphon off a major chunk of money pumped into this war for the personal benefit of some people from the US taxpayers’ money.
The worsened relations with neighbouring Afghanistan shall damage our economic interest as well. In the face of the ongoing visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, we are not very eager to hear what kind of financial punishment will be meted out to Pakistan because of the previous track record of the US carrot and stick policy. In 2011 the US started the so-called ‘New silk road policy’ that planned to stabilize Afghan economy after the withdrawal of US and NATO troops by initiating heavy private investment into Afghan infrastructure and industry. In addition, those plans that include energy projects like TAPI and CASA 1000 that were to bring Central Asian energy through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, have so far come to naught for the lack of investment and security in Afghanistan. Pakistan is hoping to be compensated for that by the Chinese ‘One road one belt’ project of the economic corridor connecting China to Gwadar. In order to take full advantage Pakistan has to provide security for investors and investment in the first place, but it needs to proceed with economic reforms and the fight against corruption as well. Apparently the ongoing political system initiated under NRO and Charter of Democracy is not going to translate ‘one road one belt’ project into reality because of unchecked massive corruption patronized for last two decades. The signs are so far not too encouraging. One point that was demanded by the organizers of the ‘New silk road policy’ was to improve trade facilitation on Border Customs Posts (BCPs) at Chaman and Torkham which are included in the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) trade corridors. A recent report by ADB does not portray an encouraging picture as Chaman and Torkham land border stations were below the regional border stations on goodsclearance time. The consequence that has arisen from that is that now the Iranian Chabahar caters to substantial volume of Afghan transit trade that were previously coming through Pakistan. Pakistan has recently acceded to the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement and to the United Nations transit convention (TIR convention) – two international agreements for the promotion of trade and transit facilitation. But that alone will not do. Those agreements will have to be implemented and the reforms needed for that will have to be initiated.
Despite the difficult situation for Pakistan internationally and in the region, economic development is a central factor for progress and stability in our country. Bad governance at all levels is the hallmark of successive rulers in which nepotism and party loyalists are posted in high positions of government withoutmerit or seniority. Reports are that the government has appointed 40 or more Trade ambassadors from the back door without adhering to any criteria or qualification or experience of these gentlemen, which will hardly be beneficial for the country but only useful for the ruling party and personal business of these gentlemen. God bless Pakistan and humanity.
—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.