Pakistan’s paradigm shift

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Many analysts are apprehensive about what the aftermath of United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan will look like.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, while confident about Pakistan’s enhanced role in ensuring regional stability, is also wary of increased militancy in the absence of a political settlement. These fears are also held by the ECO (Economic Cooperation Organisation) member states, particularly Tajikistan; which remember only too well what happened when the Soviets left this region some 40 year earlier. Since then, Afghanistan has endured proxy wars, fierce clashes, suicide bombings, target killings, forcible occupations and, above all, the unending fight between the Afghan Taliban and US-led NATO forces. Despite being unable to compete with the US in terms of sophisticated weaponry — the Taliban has still given Washington more than a run for its money; fighting ferociously against ‘marauders’ whether they be Soviet forces or those of the Coalition forces. Even the Kabul government, which enjoys full US military support, has not managed to exert its writ over the whole country. Indeed, local media reported back in February of this year that the Taliban controlled 52 percent of the country.
Pakistan has suffered directly from the violent unrest next-door. The civil-military establishment, during on-background meetings with senior journalists, have often claimed that India has been fomenting this violence, through the TTP-ISIS-NDS (National Directorate of Security) nexus, all of which have proved to be the spoilers of Afghan peace.
As for Afghanistan’s political elite, they have mostly served their own interests instead of those of the people.
Thus, the country’s never-ending uncertainty and concomitant instability owe to these elements which have remained engaged in a game of double-crossing over the last four decades. In Afghanistan, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between friend and foe.
Other actors have been funneling of millions of dollars into different existing structures that remain active inside Afghanistan. Moreover, the 20-year presence of foreign forces has demonstrated little interest in a purely Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to this longstanding turmoil. Pakistan has paid dearly for this with 70,000 killed in the so-called war on terror. However, Pakistani armed forces-sustained IBOs (Intelligence-based operations) dealt a mighty blow to both Taliban factions. External as well as internal pressures have continued to mount on Pakistan, sometimes in the form of the ‘Do More’ mantra and, at other times, in the shape of unreasonable American expectations of ‘taming’ the Taliban. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s civilian and military top brass have maintained a unified approach to the Afghan quagmire. It has been a formidable task and still, it is, given the rising expectations of US and other stakeholders. Afghan government leaders are, however, are not playing fair as they are expecting Pakistan to play a more effective role while simultaneously maligning the country. One example of this was the recent outburst by National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, who accused Pakistan of being a “brothel house”; mentoring and supporting the Taliban.
Yet Kabul must realise that in the wake of the hurried American withdrawal – Pakistan is regional importance will be more pronounced. This holds particularly true if the US completes its exit from Afghanistan by July 4, American Independence Day.
Washington is also looking for a counter-terrorism base in Afghanistan’s near abroad, as well as seeking continuation of its surveillance flights. Pakistan has firmly ruled out hosting a US military base on its soil. It will only allow its airspace and specified land routes to be used for withdrawal purposes.
In truth, Pakistan has already done more than enough for Afghan peace while also managing US security and strategic concerns. It has been the main driving force behind bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table. This is not to forget that Pakistan has hosted more than three million Afghan refugees. Pakistan, sharing a porous border with Afghanistan – and whose population shares religious and ethnic affinity with its neighbour – has high stakes in Afghanistan’s stability. However, the key spoiler of Afghan peace, namely India, wants regional instability. Thus, it is playing dirty in Afghanistan while strengthening the nexus between various militant groups as well as working hand-in-glove with Afghan intelligence.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has confirmed that Pakistan no more adheres to the old ‘Strategic Depth’ model. This recent paradigm shift to geo-economic and strategic connectivity is yet another milestone on the path of peaceful co-existence which can also bring normalcy in and around Afghanistan. Recently, this scribe had a live zoom discussion with Pakistan’s National Security Adviser, Dr Moeed Yusuf, in which the latter publicly announced the priority of making Pakistan geo-economic destination instead of a merely geo-strategic platform, as in the past.

The writer is a senior journalist and TV analyst