Skip to main content

OPED: Mending Fences – along the Af-Pak Border


Published in Lead Pakistan / Feb 2017


Pakistan and Afghanistan find themselves at crossroads. Pakistanis can rattle off all the reasons they think they have qualified for Afghanistan’s gratitude starting from their help in liberating them from the Soviet occupation to hosting millions of displaced Afghans and training their security forces to name but a few. Their Afghan neighbors on the other hand keep a list of grievances nearby to trump any grand gestures made in the past 4 decades.

Their relations may have soured over time but there are avenues of cooperation left open that can be explored. Overtures made by Pakistani State lately testify to their attempts at mending fences and the reciprocal moves by their Afghan counterparts may signal that peace and reconciliation may still be on the table. Pak COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa’s New Year phone call to Afghan leadership and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s invitation to visit make these important milestones. That momentum must not be lost in the fog of war. The stakes are too high and time is short.

The revival of the ISI – NDS agreement that promised intelligence sharing and security cooperation formulated in May 2015 comes at a crucial moment. At the time the deal was termed as against Afghan national interest. Now it may just be the lifeline needed to keep their joint national interest afloat. Earlier in February 2017, Pakistan is said to have captured and handed over suspected IS terrorists to Afghanistan that had entered its territory. After the Sehwan attack, Pak military reportedly provided the names of 76 terrorists to their Afghan counterparts in the hopes that Afghan security forces will take action. They have not done so. Pakistan in turn, targeted militant sanctuaries in Afghanistan, a first.

While fears that this could potentially wreck the fragile bonds of trust and deepen the divide remain – the incident highlights the urgency of solidifying a cohesive strategy to eliminate sanctuaries on either side of the divide. To that end, Pakistan has launched multiple operations to clear and secure its badlands and needs Afghanistan’s help in ensuring its success. That cannot happen if militants like JuA (splinter group TTP), that claimed the recent wave of attacks on Pakistani citizens continue to find safe havens beyond the wall. The rationale that a stick will not eliminate the threat may have some merit but not acting at all also has consequences. If those areas are beyond Afghanistan’s control and ISAF is unwilling or unable to strike the enemy camps, would Afghans prefer a joint military action (Af-Pak) against a common foe? At the same time, Afghanistan’s concerns about similar havens on Pak turf will also need to be allayed.

In an Al Jazeera segment, Davood Moradian - Director-General of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies decried the parallel approach towards Afghan Taliban and Afghanistan’s elected representatives implying that Pak State treated Afghan consulates spread across the country on par with the Taliban leadership mission in Quetta.

Not pushing the Taliban as stakeholders was laid out as a benchmark for CBM’s in future dialogues. The Pakistani State has been encouraged to take on the role of mediators between them on more than one occasion – and its sole interest has been to facilitate peace talks at the behest of Afghans. They no longer envision a 1990’s stylized Taliban led powerbase. And they withdrew support post 9/11 and paid the price in the form of blowback. Such characterizations, unfair though they may be, need to countered, especially since they can be used to fuel old fears and create fresh paranoia’s.

Both sides must find ways around the breach exacerbated by the Indian footprint, cross-border terrorism, Afghan leaderships' belligerent outlook and border disputes. Past the exodus of refugees which continues to generate negative publicity; and the rejection of monetary aid for said refugees from Pakistan that evokes widespread dismay. And recent attacks on Pakistani soil that elicited strong worded responses regarding Afghan based sanctuaries and led to a closure of Spin Boldak and Torkham gate. That threatens what little trade is left between these two neighbors and requires a diplomatic offensive to salvage relations.

For years Pakistan’s dry ports and sea ports have been used for bilateral trade with its landlocked neighbor. Afghanistan remains in search of greener pastures and Iran is their newest trading partner. They have also entered into a strategic partnership with India. Trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan has suffered of late. Cementing economic ties in times of war will be challenging given the stringent checks enforced at border crossings and outbreak of firefights across the LOC. It is inevitably the common man at the receiving end of these actions so keeping the supply lines running would make sense to safeguard the people’s trust.

For decades, Pakistan was considered to be second home to the displaced Afghan population. Of the 1.3 million registered and 1 million undocumented, 600,000 have already left. The State has extended their stay till December 2017. Refugee Repartition is a difficult decision and needs to be handled with compassion.

President Ghani recently alluded to a world ‘where order has been redefined’. “Now it is up to us to make it beneficial, damaging or disastrous.” It is good advice. They can also take a page out of the Chinese playbook. Afghans, do not air grievances in public. And Pakistan must keep the lines of communications open no matter what.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan / Author: Jamsheed Marker

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times /February 06, 2010

REVIEWED BY: Afrah Jamal

Jamsheed Marker belongs to an exceptional cadre of Foreign Service officers entrusted to keep things on an even keel on the diplomatic stage. Providence chose him to fill the void brought on by a sudden influx of newly independent nations and the subsequent need to expand diplomatic service during the 1960s. A stellar career in fostering global diplomacy as the longest serving ambassador has earned him a special place in history.

This veteran Pakistani diplomat has a striking resume. With ten posts and nine accreditations, his name appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only person to have served as ambassador to more countries than anyone. He took his curtain call when Pakistan declared him Ambassador at Large in 2004, and has been on the faculty at Eckerd College, St Petersburg — Florida as Diplomat-in-Residence. He ended his tenure with a wry observation, ‘the batting card on the scorecard to M…

OP-ED: What’s In A Name(sake)?

First Published in Daily Times / 2 Sep 2013

A beloved cricketer’s name adorns the billboards but this is not a biopic. The cricketing world it allegedly represents provides a compelling front but it will not be a return to his old stomping grounds. Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (MHSA) draws upon a living legend’s legacy to leverage the passion and throws in a cameo or two, but that is the extent of Afridi’s involvement. Meanwhile, somewhere in a small little village, a disgraced cricketer turned coach who trains a rag tag team will be moved centre-field. And the one thing that binds the nation together and provides the soulful soundtrack will become the anchor.

The newly minted flight is bound for cricket-ville and in some parts of the world that is reason enough to join in the festivities. Humayun Saeed, seen at the helm wearing a number of hats as the producer/actor enlists the classic underdog formula to launch his ambitious vision. The village club is in danger of being shut down, and m…

The Book of Davis - Reading between the lines

Published by Global Affairs / Aug 2017

Raymond Davis is a champ. A team player, who puts the needs of his comrades in arms before himself. He is savvy. He is a man of integrity - a survivor - a trooper. Ray, the epitome of courage runs headlong towards danger and into a minefield - literally. He is all this and more. This is his story after all.

6 years ago, he was a trained Special Forces SF, undercover ‘contractor’, forced to navigate the cramped alleyways of Lahore on a routine mission – the details of which remain a mystery. His book ‘The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis’ with Storms Reback, revisits the scene of the crime to solidify his innocence and along the way take a few potshots at random players who helped secure his release. It’s a hair-raising ride.

His style is conversational, his demeanor - amiable. The case is still fresh in people’s minds and his intent to set the record straight ignites yet another round of controversy…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

OPED: The Afghan Policy in Perspective

Published in Global Village Space / Aug 2017

True to its reality show inspired template, the Afghan strategy was rolled out after months of speculations, suspense and dithering. It used memorable taglines and inflated figures. ‘Agents of chaos’, sunk costs described as ‘billions and billions’ and going all in seeking victory against all odds. It offered to be tough on Pakistan, even as it was vague on the outlines and predictable in its deployment.

Reading between the Lines

This is essentially the new, improvised policy meant not just for Afghanistan but also Pakistan and India. With it the U.S. administration appears to have heeded the advice of keeping the enemy in the dark. They have also dismissed the necessity of keeping their allies close and have instead embarked upon a strategic vision that aims to expand the theatre adding India to the volatile mix and potentially widen the gulf between allies.

Yet it is not the public performance of the commander-in-chief that catches the e…

VIEW: GOING DUTCH (2008)

Published in THE POST May 18, 2008

What does Cadbury have to do with 12 sketches and a 17 minute film? Nothing, really. Cadbury is neither Dutch nor Danish. But by now most Pakistanis - if not all - have probably received a text message stating otherwise. And thus begins a boycott campaign of all things Dutch or Danish. The self righteous lot, in their overzealousness, would acquiesce willingly. Yet, few who have received an email or sms that proclaimed the success of this boycott and lobbied for its continuity - or witnessed the demonstrations meant to convey outrage against both Denmark and the Netherlands for their alleged laxity in safeguarding certain religions’ sanctity - will stop to reflect on the virtues of pushing a hostile policy intended to coerce but neglecting to convince. Fewer still will bother to dig deeper and corroborate details of such episodes.

The cartoon controversy returned in 2008 – helped on by the aptly titled film ‘Fitna’- similarly denounced for its unflat…