Why Pakistan needs to revisit its

Afghan policy & how?
By
Jan Achakzai
-
March 12, 2017

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are continuously on a downward trajectory and this by
extension is affecting Pakistan’s relations with the US. The US has a huge interest in Afghanistan so our
Afghan policy has a direct impact on Pak-US bilateral relations.

In addition, security issues are so humungous and so complex that these negative triangular relations have
created huge challenges for Pakistan.

Since Kabul government takes a cue from the US, it makes very pragmatic sense for Pakistan to address the US concerns in
the first place.

At the moment, there seems to be no major bilateral exchanges between Pakistan and Afghanistan except
some limited interactions with UNHCR on Afghan refugees issues or some communications on border
management, the kind of ones that took place after the recent terrorist attacks in Lahore and Sehwan
Sharif.

No engagement of the civilians and military brass with the Kabul government suggests as if Islamabad is
waiting for Kabul to come forth or for Washington to push Kabul to reach out to Islamabad.

Unfortunately, the unwise narrative of the Kabul government by putting all blame on Pakistan has foreclosed
all doors for cooperation. We are not discussing here who is responsible for the current undesirable situation
or what but to seek a way forward.

Read more: How terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan are posing threat to Pakistan’s viability?

Where are we? How to improvise the variables of Pakistan’s Afghan policy.

But first things first: the premise here is how to arrest the downward spiral in relations with the US and by
extension with the Kabul government and create a leverage to advance national interests.

At the moment, there seem to be no major bilateral exchanges between Pakistan and Afghanistan except some interactions with
UNHCR on Afghan refugees issue.

Some specific actions by Pakistan, as seen in the recent past, against some Taliban leaders as reported in
the media involving arrest of some individuals are not enough to improve talking points of the US or

the cycle of arrest and immediate release will not convince the US and thus will not help Pakistan gain political mileage. eve droppings on camps and locations as they have made huge ingress in the country. If Pakistan fears of any eventual tactical alliance of the Haqqani’s with the anti-Pakistan TTP. 7) Prevent Afghan fragile state’s melt-down so the sovereign voids along Pak-Afghan borders is averted in the long run. given that all groups we targeted since 9/11 were then penetrated by Indian agencies) then we should put this openly on the table with the US and talk through all contingencies candidly.Pakistan. (which cannot be ruled out. There is no chance for the revival of the Quadrilateral forum unless either there is a movement on bilateral. The United States have huge ways of monitoring: communications intercept. 6) Achieve the last goal by a push for peace negotiations. Isolation is real: keeping the status quo is unacceptable as bilateral relations gets worse between the three countries. 3) Avoid escalation of hostilities between the Kabul Government and the Taliban. observable changes. Since Kabul government takes a cue from the US. transitional steps or possible shift. 2) Facilitate Chinese leverage on Kabul. 5) Increase equities with the US and China that Pakistan is an honest broker in Afghanistan. and 8) Convince the Afghans why CPEC is a game changer for Kabul too. While more arrests if followed will create traction in Washington. it makes very pragmatic sense for Pakistan to address the US concerns in the first place. It should be kept in view that our narrative and actions should be consistent. We need to ponder on some issues here and come out with adjustments: How to manage the Haqqanis? . It is the time we revisit our Afghan policy and assess underlying principles and its pragmatic underpinnings. What are our Broad objectives? Our broad objectives in the mid-term should be: 1) Unravel Afghan-Indian coalition. The US has made huge investments in Afghanistan. 4) Portray Pakistan as responsible mature power in Afghanistan. Continuation on the existing route is not in any body’s interest.

We need to scrutinize if the “insurance” rationale still holds water when we could not capitalize on our investment in Quadrilateral dialogue and when the Taliban refused our pleas to participate in talks.Pakistan needs to assess how we can preserve our ties with the Haqqanis and the Taliban (If we are still convinced that it is needed and that its cost-benefit analysis supports our policy of treating the Haqqanis as “insurance” policy-as commonly believed). How can we achieve this leverage? Pakistan can still preserve its ties with Haqqanis and softly push out the leadership to go into Afghanistan: one possible option is by social pressure pushing out refugees to facilitate this transition. There is an open-ended commitment from the US military to Afghanistan and its support. Read more: US encourages Pakistan Afghanistan talks and reconciliation with Taliban looks on the cards Pakistan really needs to ask itself if the Taliban and the Haqqanis are really listening and what benefits we are getting if we are the primary sponsors. We should be rest assured that the US will never ask for kinetic action against the Haqqanis. . In other words. Our presumed ties with the Haqqanis are more important than with the US. Here we can leverage our way by playing up this possible blow-back rational and can renegotiate issues like F16s. then we can easily work with the US and such sincere message makes cooperation much easier between Pakistan and the US. we can use these optics seen to be backed by sincere intent as leverage on the US for concessions. China and Russia are still very far off (decades) to challenge and replace the US-dominated western political and economic order. verifiable shift. (which cannot be ruled out. If somehow we do enough optics. Narrative about the USA leaving Afghanistan not true The fears that the US would leave Afghanistan and abandon Pakistan or is about to leave need revisiting: the fact is the US is not leaving for next four years. The least denominator is we start from border region and now it is already happening. There is a blowback argument: we should use it to our advantage by asking for assistance in return for measurable.a reality we have to live with for the foreseeable future. and financial reimbursements for our efforts in the border management. Pakistan can not effort binary relations (e. verifiable and observable by the US.g either China or the US equation) If Pakistan fears of any eventual tactical alliance of the Haqqani’s with the anti-Pakistan TTP. Or we can ask for help in order to avoid blow-back in the case of a possible shift in our policy. As mid-level foreign policy power. given that all groups we targeted since 9/11 were then penetrated by Indian agencies) then we should put this openly on the table with the US and talk through all contingencies candidly. both military hardware. It will likely strengthen Pakistan’s hands and will also help the US to make cooperation easier.

The US is still the sole superpower and no other power has so far replaced its leverage in Afghanistan or its billions of dollars worth support. the argument goes. the US-Pak relations’ scope and content is still determined unfortunately from Afghan lens mainly unless we expand massively on other aspects of our bilateral: trade. this needs to be made clear to the US as politely but candidly as possible) Let us talk about Indian prism: there are genuine concerns that Afghanistan has embraced Indian “sphere of influence” as a result Pakistan should play as a spoiler to counteract India in Afghanistan.a reality we have to live with for the foreseeable future. As mid-level foreign policy power.g either China or the US equation). China and Russia are still not eager to foot the massive bill of billions of dollars to sustain Afghan government and its security forces. commerce etc. While we should strengthen our ties with China and Russia but not at the cost of our ties with the US. China and Russia are still very far off (decades) to challenge and replace the US-dominated western political and economic order. Indian Ingress-scope and limitations India understands that Pakistan has all the means and wherewithal to increase the cost for India in Afghanistan if it so enhances its footprints without taking Pakistani redlines in view. So it is in our interest to improve and keep good bilateral relations with the US and best way is to continue to be a facilitator in Afghanistan. But Pakistan needs to examine Indian options and limitations carefully to deal with Indian penetration into Pakistan’s west in what Indian’s plan as “two front situation” for Pakistan. Pakistan can not effort binary relations (e. . (Pakistan has not done that in view of US sensitivities. From the Washington viewpoint.

this needs to be made clear to the US as politely but candidly as possible) . India cannot replace the US as a sponsor of the Afghan government and its institutions for at least next three decades assuming the need of the Afghan government remains around 6 to 10 billions US dollars annually in the foreseeable future. Fourth. Central Asia. India understands that Pakistan has all the means and wherewithal to increase the cost for India in Afghanistan if it so enhances its footprints without taking Pakistani redlines in view. India having energy surplus can not access Pakistan and Afghan energy markets. and Iran via land route. New Delhi needs TAPI and the key to unlocking TAPI is with Islamabad. (Pakistan has not done that in view of US sensitivities.Again we need to be cognisant of the fact that Pakistan has already wisely neutralized potential Indian leverage on Afganistan: blockage of Indian goods and access to western neighborhood including Afghanistan. as India desperately needs gas to diversify its energy source which is now disproportionately coal based. Second. India can never replace Pakistan’s levels in Afghanistan: geographical proximity. ethnic affinity. Sixth. religious homogeneity. Third. Read more: India and Afghanistan declaring an “Air Cargo Service” over Pakistan: Realistic Economics or Political Gimmickry? Fifth.

Read more: Pakistan warns US. the more vulnerable Indian interest become to Pakistan’s largesse. not India. Therefore. China and Iran an opportunity has arisen for Pakistan to offer that only Pakistan can help stabilize Afghanistan. US still thinks that India treats Afghanistan as as “sphere of influence” and that Islamabad has overstated the Indian presence in Afghanistan as a threat to Pakistan but our premier agency.In other words. both the US and Pakistan can converge on. As India can only work for option B. Indian Intell presence is there in Afghanistan and is being used against Pakistan. We need to have a candid discussion with the US that why “sphere of influence” perception is not real and why it undermines Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan. with greater convergence between Pakistan.kinetic solution to militancy instead of option A: reconciliation. economically and politically is so weak that it can not protect Indian interests. Post 9/11 rational for the US is still there: the US is still concerned about Al Qaeda and the likes – now ISIS. But Pakistan needs to articulate in a better way as to why Indian presence in Afghanistan is a threat to Pakistan – than what it has done so far. This investment is still continuing even today. Pakistan needs to reorient its policy makers to understand why the US has a huge interest in Afghanistan than any other country: billions of dollars pumped it. Given stakes in Afghanistan. . the more Indian ingress in Afghanistan. ISI. blood sacrificed. In the past few months. Afghanistan given its geographical situation is strategically. ISI needs to beef up its capacity to do that. The US will definitely welcome Pakistan’s role as a force for good and stabilizer in Afghanistan. Russia. Seventh. has to articulate to the US what RAW activities look like and they need to be briefed thoroughly and regularly. we need to articulate our concerns in Afghanistan better to ourselves and to the US viz-a-viz Indian ingress and Indian designs of trapping Pakistan into a “two-front situation” We need to ask ourselves what steps assure Pakistan’s needs/concerns? Yes. Afghanistan could be the next Syria We need to have a candid discussion with the US that why “sphere of influence” perception is not real and why it undermines Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan. US long-term presence: myth or reality We have so far not convinced the US on our Indian concerns. the US is convinced that there is no military solution so reconciliation is the only option.

With peace talks in deadlock. protection of life and property. Read more: Pakistan 2016: Sandwiched between hostile India & Afghanistan. and China about the US intentions if it really wants peace in post-Mullah Manaur World. there are fears in Pakistan. Now it has been reduced to $20/25 billion a year.Yes. . the alternative is slow fighting with low- level insurgency: a nasty option. Almost 8400 troops to remain in for foreseeable future. It needs Pakistan as much needed partner so there is a gap in the US Afghan policy only Pakistan can fill in. discussion. Afghanistan. This can be tried before a final settlement. It is interesting to note that no territorial concessions were allowed to Gulbadin Hekmatyar but it can be part of elements of talk with the Taliban and also the offer of troops withdrawal is on the table subject to creation of conditions conducive to withdrawal—In other words. If the US does not get a responsible exit. Will 2017 be any different? But let us flag the US cost/investment again and the price it pays. but behind the scene. the alternative is slow fighting with low-level insurgency: a nasty option. Taliban peace deadlock & new options The Taliban talks deadlock and the potential road map: the Taliban have already been offered: Prisoner’s release. Now almost $4-5 billion for Afghan government is allocated additionally. immunity from prosecution. the US may not be tough enough on Kabul government. delisting from the UN. NATO’s cost is on top of it. Here again. If the US does not get a responsible exit. yes. But the bottom line is: we need to understand the US is looking for reduced but dignified disengagement and it is looking for a retrenchment from the Afghan stage eventually. But Taliban are not clear what they really want. there could be another option/proposal: what if the US offers two times the salaries paid to the Taliban fighters: $1200-1300 per Taliban (for a critical mass of the Taliban) over the next three years. The Chinese also believe that the US bottom line is to scuttle peace deal between Kabul and the Taliban so the US creates rational for long-term military presence – these issues need open. As far as the premise If the US-not-helpful-enough is concerned. complete withdrawal depends on how the final framework look like or it will be gauged against the kind of end vs interim steps. instead of buying into conspiracy theories: troops’ cost till recently was $11 billion PCM. Pakistan can create a leverage for itself by figuring and codifying the Taliban position and thought processes. At the moment they take $580 PCM so make it double to stop fighting as a quid pro cue.

Immediate steps for thaw Doing nothing is no option.9/11 Afghanistan. Pakistan has open borders with Afghanistan and has to create much leverage with many constituencies. a freeze of hostilities. right and center. it will be a big game changer with the US improving our image dramatically. Isolation is real: statuesque is unacceptable as bilateral gets worse between the three countries. Immediate ice thawing effort will be to have SOAS or PM outreach with Kabul government sending a positive message on the eve of the inauguration of the new US President sending a clear message left. or do not attack provision if we manage a momentum for of-course advance level of negotiations. As the ex-USSR is no more. boosting positive talking points of Washington as well. Pakistan clearly needs to establish principles of Afghan policy: we really can not afford to see the Taliban taking over as sole Afghan entity repressing the entire Afghanistan.Here we can create another goodwill leverage on the US and it is not going to be a daunting task as given our intel capabilities we can ensure a huge number of the Taliban taking up the offer. In Pakistan’s strategic and foreign affairs discourse. we need to test the waters incrementally. Though it is a “bottom-up” approach instead of reconciliation leading to the administrative integration of the Taliban. It Islamabad convinces any of the fighting groups to not to attack the US troops. But the religio-politicos in Taliban grab will not listen to Pakistan either and may even have a tactical support with Pakistani extremists of the right as was witnessed in pre. the left-leaning Afghan governments of the past can not play with Pakistani fault lines. We need to approach new political forces from the South and South East. Read more: Will Pakistanis & Afghans be able to see through the Indian Great Game? We need to accept that even weak multi-ethnic Afghan entity is in our interest. We can also help with a section of the fighters to announce ceasefire. the friendly and soft narrative needs to be adopted. we need to establish contacts with. apart from the Taliban. It is dangerous to rely on one group as pro-Pakistani constituency. . There are many groups now in Parliament and doing politics. Media outlets bureaus in Kabul are the need of the hour if we need to check Indian narrative. Our pragmatic streak suggests we need to expand and diversify our equities in Afghanistan forthwith.

General Bordyuzha stated that there were 92 terrorist and extremist groups operating across Central Asia as opposed to 47 in 2010 and 32 in 2009. Infiltration into Tajikistan by militant groups could quickly spill into the rest of the region. Here we can help the Russians to pacify their anxieties given Pakistan’s incredible counterterrorism experiences and expertise. Then add ISIS into the mix. . In a press conference last June. The Saudis and Iranians have major assets in Afghanistan and their spoiling capabilities are unmatched. Most of the Tajikistani-Afghan border is situated in high terrain. It should be kept in view that our narrative and actions should be consistent. The US has made huge investments in Afghanistan. There is also a perception that India is supporting ISIS in Afghanistan. which makes patrolling this frontier extremely difficult.Creating Russia leverage Leveraging Russian fears: Russia believes that ISIS is part of the larger Geo-political game in the region by the US to undermine Euro-Asian stability. aided and abetted by some of the nearly eight dozen active underground terrorist organizations reportedly present in the region. We need to create some sort of understanding of their regional game. Alley Saudi concerns It was a rude shocker when I was asked by a Saudi diplomat as if Pakistan was involved in the Syrian conflict by providing small arms to some rebel groups through private contractors. and Eastern Europe with astonishing speed. We also need to understand their game plan in Afghanistan: at the moment they are playing big times in the country to contain Iranian influence. China. From there. these groups could move into Russia. Pakistan really needs to remove the Saudi concerns on our role if any in Syria.