Thursday, March 30, 2017

Business Recorder editorial March 30, 2017

Sane advice In contrast with the hype against the Afghan government in the Pakistani media, National Security Adviser Lt-General (retd) Nasser Janjua has proffered some sane advice vis-à-vis the approach to relations with Kabul. He counsels a cool-headed approach as necessary for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he thinks such a stance is necessary since it is beneficial for peace in Afghanistan with its concomitant advantages for Pakistan and the region. It would also help reduce India’s influence in Kabul, which could help prevent a two-front situation (west and east) from developing any further. Janjua advises against thinking about Afghanistan with anger and working to fix the relationship. It may be recalled that Pakistan angrily shut Pakistan’s border crossings with Afghanistan after a series of terrorist attacks in the country that were blamed on elements operating from Afghan soil near the border. This was done both in a fit of pique as well as to exert pressure on Kabul to act against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorists’ sanctuaries in that area. The action was not well thought through as it was doubtful the closure of the formal border crossing points would prevent the terrorists from finding alternative crossing points along the long and difficult terrain border. The closure may only have succeeded in inflicting huge economic losses to both countries because of the suspension of trade and movement of goods, suffering on people stranded on both sides of the border, arguably put Pakistan in violation of international law on the rights of landlocked countries, and further tarnished the already negative Afghan opinion about Pakistan. Fortunately better sense eventually prevailed and the crossings were finally reopened last week after mediation by the UK, which resulted in an agreement on counterterrorism cooperation whose details are yet to be made public. The reversal of the border closure only underlined the wisdom of Janjua’s advice that there was no option but to mend ties with Afghanistan. The future, especially the vision of enhanced connectivity between the countries of the region and beyond, depended on it. Islamabad had to face the embarrassment of being guilty of border closure to the west at the Economic Cooperation Organisation summit when the meeting gave a call for improving regional connectivity and enhancing trade at the very moment when the western border lay shut. Janjua went on to argue that if Pakistan was facing a developing two-front situation, India too might confront a similar situation given Pakistan-China cooperation. He also underlined the threats to peace from the US-India logistics exchange agreement in the India Ocean region. The US’s 360,000 troops presence in the region, combined with the might of the Indian army, was straining regional stability and the security architecture, Janjua argued. The essence of Janjua’s sane advice is not to reinforce failure through a punitive stance towards Kabul but to engage with the Afghans. Of late the former policy has produced negative reactions from Afghanistan. In December 2016 at the Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected Islamabad’s offer of $ 500 million assistance for reconstruction purposes, adding the advice that the money would be better spent dealing with the Afghan Taliban’s safe havens inside Pakistan. Kabul also refused (along with India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other South Asian states) to attend the SAARC summit in Islamabad in September 2016, which eventually had to be cancelled. While Pakistan’s call for better border management in cooperation with Afghanistan makes eminent sense to Islamabad given the Tehreek-e-Taliban presence inside Afghanistan, Kabul could and does reiterate in response its demand for Islamabad to deal with the Afghan Taliban safe havens inside Pakistan. This tit-for-tat could turn out to be endless without both countries sitting down in a spirit of understanding each other’s difficulties vis-à-vis terrorism and finding ways and means to cooperate with each other. One hopeful development is that in the midst of the deadlock, Pakistan is attending the Moscow moot in mid-April where India, Iran, the Afghan Taliban and Kabul would also be present. A notable absence will be that of the US. Bilateral and multilateral efforts to regain the confidence of Afghanistan are in the best interests of Pakistan itself, as Janjua has rightly reminded us.

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