Americans like to use abbreviations. They like simplifying, which does not come from an inability to master sophisticated thought, but rather from a desire to pursue pragmatism to fix a problem.
If American diplomacy came up with the abbreviation “AfPak,” that was not just a simple simplification. On the contrary, it reflected a deeper analysis, highlighting a problem.
Afghanistan is a pawn in the regional geopolitical conflict between countries such as Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia and China. But if the Americans are calling it AfPak, instead of AfIndia, or AfIran, it is not just a matter of phonetics. In comparison to other players, Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan is the most critical one. But so far, that role has been more of a destructive one, rather than a constructive one.
Pakistan is waging its proxy war with India in Afghan territories. But this is a war it cannot win. What’s more, while waging this war, it is fast becoming a failed state – if it is not one already – which could land it the category of rogue state.
Turkey and Pakistan are known to enjoy particularly warm, friendly relations, but cold winds have started to blow between the two due to the Afghan problem.
The Istanbul meeting tomorrow, which aims to lay the groundwork for positive relations among regional players leading to the transition in 2014 when security responsibilities will be transferred by NATO to Afghan authorities, seems to have rung alarm bells in Islamabad. While Pakistan is not in theory against regional cooperation, in practice it does not want regional players, India especially, to become involved.
Looking at the articles written by retired Pakistani ambassadors (one from Tariq Osman Hyder was published in the Hürriyet Daily News; and never mind the fact that they were written by former officials, it certainly reflects the official view), Islamabad is quite annoyed at Turkey for its role in the conference.
The diplomatic initiative is “ambitious in its sweep but confused in its emphasis and flawed in its approach and sequencing” wrote Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former envoy to the United States. “Led by Afghanistan and Turkey, the plan is being driven by the U.S. and its key NATO allies who want to unveil this at a regional conference in Istanbul,” she added.
Basically, Pakistan is angry at Turkey and the U.S. which want a result-oriented conference; for the conference to bear fruit, an institutionalization of the process is a must. In other words, in the absence of some kind of a mechanism to monitor the process that might include implementing confidence-building measures, everything said in Istanbul will stay on paper.
My understanding is that the Turkish diplomacy has tried to calm down the Pakistanis, telling them that the presence of Turkey in the regional framework should alleviate the concerns of Pakistanis vis-à-vis other players. After all, the Turks do not have a secret agenda of strengthening the hands of India at the expense of Pakistan.
But I am doubtful that they succeeded in reassuring Pakistan, which, so far, has not given any signals that it will get rid of its anachronistic reflexes.
But at the end of the day, treating Afghanistan as its backyard and waging a proxy war will be to the detriment of Pakistan’s own interests. Pakistan needs to change course and stop relying on its nuisance value.