In his third foreign visit after trips Saudi Arabia and China, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani traveled to Pakistan on November 14 to talk about the peace that Afghanistan desperately needs. Ghani’s visit came two days after the new director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. General Rizwan Akhtar was in Kabul for talks on the same topic.
There is a prevailing assumption in Afghanistan that when Pakistan’s army chief and ISI director-general talk about peace in Afghanistan, they simply do not mean it. This suspicion derives from the Pakistan Army and intelligence community’s decades of destabilizing engagement in Afghanistan. Ghani seems of a similar view, because in addition to meeting with President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he rushed to Army HQ in Rawalpindi to meet the powerful Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, who himself was in Kabul on October 6.
Ghani understands that the ultimate fate and success of his presidency rests on restoring basic peace and security to Afghanistan, and that the key to those issues certainly lies somewhere with Akhtar and his boss, Sharif.
At a press conference, both Ghani and Sharif promised to join together in the fight against terrorism, but the reality is much more difficult. As former President Hamid Karzai, who visited Pakistan 20 times during his 13 year presidency, noted during his farewell speech, “No peace will arrive unless the U.S. or Pakistan want it.”
Will Pakistan Work for Peace?
There are hard realities, serious doubts, and pressing questions surrounding the answer to this single question. No Afghan leader in modern history pushed as aggressively for a political settlement with Pakistan as Karzai did. Living in Pakistan as a refugee and political activist supporting the anti-Soviet Mujahideen forces since 1980, Karzai was uniquely informed of the real nexus of power in Pakistan and its crucial role in destabilizing or heralding a sustainable peace in his homeland. Karzai did what he could as president of a war-torn country to achieve that goal. In October 2011, he said that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan if the U.S. – Afghanistan’s principle donor and ally in the post-Taliban era – ever went to war against Pakistan. Karzai’s statement could have reflected a realistic belief that even if appeasing Pakistan cost Kabul its biggest partner, Afghanistan should still accept this in order to secure its long-term peace and survival.
The irony is that the passion for peace remains unabated in the heart of all major statements and initiatives that both countries have released and undertaken in the last few years. For instance, in October 2006, Karzai and Pakistan’s former President General Pervez Musharraf attended a tripartite meeting in Washington hosted by U.S. president George W. Bush at which they agreed to convene a traditional loya jirga to unblock the peace process. The jirga was held on August 2007 with 700 influential participants from both countries, and categorically concluded that sustainable peace was in the interest of both countries and that a single cohesive strategy should be adopted to fight the notorious triangle of militancy, the Taliban, and the drug trade across their porous borders. Karzai missed no chance to ask other powerful states including Turkey and China to mediate the peace talks, but success remained elusive.
There is a simple saying that “if you live next to a poor neighbor, think about your safety twice.” Pakistan has lived next to Afghanistan and watched it undergo three decades of utter turmoil and one and a half decades of serious political transformation – and still prefers to live with a troubled rather than a peaceful neighbor. It is an oversimplification to assume that Pakistan’s intelligence and military leaders are not mindful of the threats that an unstable Afghanistan could pose to Pakistan in the long-term. Therefore, the behavior of Pakistan should be investigated by actors other than biased and often politicized media outlets, including those of Afghanistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power, but it is not in a position to pursue a hegemonic role in the region given its own poor economic situation, the precarious growth of its militancy and sectarian violence, and the ubiquitous presence of a powerful antagonist in the form of India. Pakistan is not even like Iran, promoting a theological version of Shia orthodoxy with the ideological goal of proselytizing beyond its borders. Pakistan is simply a country that has struggled to survive since its birth in 1947. In this context, there is palpable evidence of Pakistan’s long-held destructive involvement in Afghanistan, and its reluctance to engage in a genuine peace agreement.
India in Pakistan’s Backyard
Since the fall of the Afghan monarchy in 1973 and the subsequent Soviet invasion of 1979, Pakistan has remained a major player in Afghanistan, harboring, training and channeling U.S. aid to Afghan Mujahideen and later the Taliban, who came to power in 1996. The post-Taliban development changed the game. Pakistan is becoming infuriated by the growing role of India in Afghanistan. With $2 billion pledged in aid, India is one of the six major donors to Afghanistan with a growing presence in Afghanistan’s economy, infrastructure building, and natural resource development. In October 2011, India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership allowing India to train Afghanistan’s security forces and invest in its key energy sector. In addition to economic and security ties, India is now the most favored and affordable destination for education and medical tourism for a large number of Afghans.
The Line of Hate
Afghanistan and Pakistan have been embroiled in a protracted and legally complicated territorial conflict over the Durand Line, demarcated by the U.K. in 1892 which divided Pashtun into two parts in Pakistan and Afghanistan. To date, Afghan rulers have not only refused to recognize the Durand Line as a legitimate border between the two countries; they have repeatedly announced their support for an independent Pashtunistan that could unite Pashtuns of both countries in a single country. Despite his diplomatic zeal for peace with Pakistan in 13 years, Karzai strongly rejected any deal or negotiation on recognition of the Durand Line. The territorial conflict reached its peak in 1963 when Mohammad Daoud Khan, the last Durrani ruler of Afghanistan, ordered the Afghan Army and tribal men to invade Pakistan. Daoud continued to push for Pashtunistan after he was sacked by King Mohammad Zahir Shah and returned to power a decade later in 1973.
In the decade since Daoud first declared support for Pashtunistan and Afghanistan became engulfed in the Soviet invasion and civil war, Pakistani rulers, particularly intelligence and military leaders, have positioned a Pashtun resurgence and nationalism as an existential threat. After years of interference in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s leaders have learned that handling militancy and terrorist groups like the Taliban is easier than dealing with a strong Pashtun-led government in Afghanistan, capable of mobilizing Pashtun nationalism for a historical dream of reunion.
A Break From History
It is famously said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, forgetting history may be the best solution to repairing their critically damaged relationship. Both countries are embroiled in terrorism. There is hardly a single day in Pakistan or Afghanistan without violence and terrorist attacks. As an example, on November 3 a terrorist attack later claimed by the Tahrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) killed 60, including 10 women and seven children, while injuring 110. One day after Ghani’s return from Islamabad, a powerful suicide attack occurred close to Afghanistan’s parliament, killing three and injuring 32 people, including a prominent female member of parliament, Shukria Barakzai. Earlier on November 10, at least 10 policemen were killed in Afghanistan in two separate episodes.
The full minutes of what were discussed behind the closed diplomatic doors have yet to be released, but there are already some conclusions. Ghani will continue to pay his visits to Islamabad, but the ultimate success will come only if the troubling South Asian neighbors demonstrate the courage to break from history, and instead create their own.
Ali Reza Sarwar is a Fulbright Graduate Fellow, Texas A&M University, Bush School of Government and Public Service.