Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan and India

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The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, on Sept 29, 2015 while speaking at Asia Security Conference in the German city of Munich said the perpetual instability in Afghanistan had telling effects on the region adding despite hurdles, peace and reconciliation were of vital importance for a larger settlement in Afghanistan.The COAS also highlighted that instability within and without had deeply affected the socio-economic climate in Pakistan. He said the current approaches to restore stability within Pakistan had opened up economic opportunities for the country and the region. He certainly had a point when he categorically stated that some practical steps were required to manage the Pak-Afghan borders for gainful conclusion of the military operation Zarb-e-Azb.

There is no doubt that peaceful Afghanistan could open regional connectivity and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) benefits could be shared. More or less, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also expressed similar views when he addressed the UN General Assembly on Sept 30. The Prime Minister focused much on easing of tensions in the region laying emphasis on solution of all dissenting issues through peaceful means and a meaningful dialogue.

Army Chief’s statement in Munich and PM Nawaz address in the UNGA are a clear manifestation of complete harmony and unanimity of thoughts between the military establishment and the political leadership of Pakistan when it comes to resolution of outstanding issues and Pakistan’s relations with the neighboring countries in particular. While on Indian and Afghanistan side, it seems as if both the political leadership and the military establishment are poles apart when it comes to relations with Pakistan. In Ufa, both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi resolved to work strenuously for peace especially at borders. Pakistan very well guarded its vow made in Ufa and never allowed any border violations but India as a matter of fact intensified cross border violations killing a number of innocent Pakistani citizens.

This implies that there may be a wide disconnect between the Indian political leadership and the Indian military establishment. From the face of it, the Indian military establishment is not ready to follow and honour commitments of the political leadership that it makes at various forums such as Ufa. Peace between Pakistan and India may not be achieved until and unless the Indian political leadership learns to assert its authority. Pakistani leadership too needs to engage the arch rivals in a meaningful dialogue by addressing their concerns, in order for a lasting peace in the region for it always take two to make a clap.

As regards our relations with Afghanistan, situation appears quite interesting and intriguing as well. In Afghanistan virtually there are two parallel governments at work one spearheaded by President Ashraf Ghani and another by Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. While President Ashraf Ghani may have a genuine desire to have friendly relations with Pakistan, Abdullah Abdullah appears to have adopted a diametrically opposite approach. Abdullah Abdullah’s excessive inclination towards India is perhaps the main stumbling block for normalization of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Afghan chief executive wishes to drag India in every project in which Afghanistan is a partner. For example, CASA 1000 energy project is now in the final stages of its completion. Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan are partners in this project. Pakistan and Afghanistan will benefit from Tajik energy as partners. A transmission line that will start from the Tajik capital Dushanbe, shall reach Peshawar via Afghanistan. The project is due to complete in 2018. Now, when everything regarding this project has been finalized, Abdullah Abdullah has suddenly came up with a demand that India should also be made part of this project– a demand that took all stakeholders by sheer surprise.

With these postures, the goal of friendly relations will remain elusive. All the three countries hold key to peace and stability in the region and if they continue fighting with one another then unfortunately peace in the region shall remain a distant dream. The political leaderships of these countries need to put their house in order so that it becomes next to impossible for the vested interests, either internal or external, to exploit and use them for their ulterior motives.