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Islam and Politics ( 16 Dec 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Hard Times Ahead for Pakistan?

By Shahid Ilyas

December 16, 2013

Pakistan will likely continue its confrontational policy towards India and Afghanistan, thus further dissipating its capital of goodwill in the international community. Such goodwill, if any exists, is already at a very low ebb

The Loya Jirga or the Grand Council of Afghanistan has approved the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US, which allows for the extended stay of US troops in Afghanistan. As President Karzai put it in his opening speech to the Jirga, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey approved of the agreement, Iran disapproved of it and Pakistan ‘formally’ (read, not informally) approved of it. By this, he meant quite obviously that it did not approve of it wholeheartedly.

The doubts expressed by President Karzai about the sincerity of Pakistan in approving the agreement emanate from the latter’s decades-old hostile attitude towards Afghanistan. Since the mid-1970s, the Pakistani establishment has made it clear that it has wanted an Afghanistan that is ‘friendly’ and, at the same time, one that is hostile towards India. Therefore the Pakistani establishment sees the region in terms of ‘we’ and ‘they’, a region in which the countries friendly towards India are considered as being hostile. This is truer about Afghanistan, which the establishment considers as a threat to its territorial integrity if it (Afghanistan) is friendly with India. Such feelings of insecurity emanate from the unsettled nature of the Durand Line, the border that separates present day Afghanistan and Pakistan. Interestingly, when the Taliban ruled in Kabul with the help of Pakistan, they refused making any commitment on the issue of the Durand Line.

However, Afghanistan does not look at the region in terms of hostile blocs. Its foreign policy, post-2001, seeks friendly relations with its neighbours and other countries of the world. Its main focus is, as is frequently and unambiguously stated by its leaders, on the development of infrastructure, institution building, peace and economic development. India has been one of the major actors to contribute to all of these objectives of the Afghan state. It is a major contributor in ongoing infrastructure projects and the development of the armed forces of Afghanistan.

Pakistan, crises-ridden as it is, is not in a position to contribute in any significant way towards helping the Afghan state in its policy objectives. It is short of money and thus unable to invest in any sector that the Afghan government prioritises. Therefore, it fails to gain the friendship and goodwill of the Afghan people. The option available with the Pakistani establishment, as the mainstream international media and governments believe, is to do all it can to frustrate any effort that aims at the emergence of a stable Afghan state, and the just approved US-Afghan BSA aims at realising just that, i.e. the emergence of a stable Afghan state, one that cannot once again turn into a breeding ground for al Qaeda and its affiliates, and one that can defend itself against internal and external threats.

Pakistan, given its multiple vulnerabilities, needs to evolve a strategy that contributes to the furtherance of international objectives in Afghanistan, rather than undermining them. For it is not in a position, given its dependence on the west for economic and military aid, to confront the international community. It needs to do all it can to normalise its relations with India to an extent that it is no longer seen as an enemy.

As has been proved by past events, the Durand Line cannot be imposed on Afghanistan. However, as President Karzai has stated on different occasions, the same can be made irrelevant by way of increased economic interdependence and the easing of restrictions on travel between the two countries. Given the history of Indo-Pak relations and the strong vested interests that feed on this enmity, normalisation between the two countries does not seem likely in the foreseeable future.

In that case, Pakistan will likely continue its confrontational policy towards India and Afghanistan, thus further dissipating its capital of goodwill in the international community. Such goodwill, if any exists, is already at very low ebb. Pakistan is likely to invite international sanctions in the future if it continues with its present policy towards Afghanistan, which might further accelerate its descent it into anarchy. The issue of nuclear proliferation can once again surface, and Pakistan may be asked very hard and uncomfortable questions.

Anti-US space is fast decreasing. China-US, India-US and Russia-US relations are evolving in a positive direction thanks to their increased economic interdependence. The latest nuclear accord with Iran points towards a future of better ties between Iran and the west. As can be seen from the international consensus on Iran, Syria and Egypt, such a consensus (towards pressuring Pakistan into giving up its nuclear weapons) in the future is not far-fetched.

Therefore Pakistan needs to follow policies wherein it is seen to be on the side of the international community, and not against it. It may be pointed out that evidence suggests that, at times, policies of powerful countries can have in them elements of revenge. And Pakistan has enough on its hands vis-à-vis its role in nuclear proliferation as well as its questionable conduct in cooperating with the international community to fight terror in Afghanistan over the past decade. Therefore excuses abound if ever the international community decides to punish Pakistan.

Shahid Ilyas originates from North Waziristan.