Both Pakistan and Afghanistan will remain caught in the quagmire of militancy and politics of militancy unless political solutions are offered to what are essentially political problems.
Though the entire Pakistani state seems to be putting its weight behind the Zarb-e-Azb operation as strong military action uproots terrorists’ networks in northern parts of the country, its effectiveness is stymied by the fact that around 1,500 militant leaders have crossed over to hostile territories in Afghanistan where there is no mechanism or will to take them to task.
These views were expressed by journalist and author Ahmed Rashid while delivering a lecture titled “Continuing search for stability: Pakistan and Afghanistan” at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on Friday.
He said Pakistan right now had been backed into a tight corner from where it could claw its way out only if its both hands — politics and the military operation — were in sync with each other. Right now, he said, Pakistan was only relying on military action, that too without any help from across the Afghan border, which was neither enough nor a smart way to go about attaining even a degree of stability in the region.
The biggest example of this dichotomy, according to Rashid, is that the state of Pakistan feels the need to act like the big brother and host the Afghan Taliban and persuade them to talk to Kabul, the very same Afghan Taliban who hosted anti-Pakistan elements on the other side of the Durand Line.
Then there was the problem of soft influence which militant groups were allowed to wield in several parts of the country, especially Punjab, and had put Pakistan through the Pathankot incident and its aftermath, he said.
Author of five books, Rashid stated that Pakistan had been dabbling in proxy wars even before the Russian invasion. “By the time invasion actually happened, we had already been training militant leaders,” he said. “However, after Pakistan became a nuclear state, instead of being toned down, proxy elements and their use intensified. And we see the results today.”
Harbouring and using proxies by Pakistan actually prompted other countries in the region, including Iran, Central Asian states and even China, to do the same to try to maintain the balance of power. “But the liabilities they pose right now for the state far outweigh their short-lived advantages,” he said.
There were several opportunities for Pakistan to wash its hands off the proxies. “The first was right after the end of the Cold War in 1991-92. But that was when the state began moving its proxy resources to Kashmir. The second lost opportunity was in the aftermath of the 9/11. Immediately after 9/11 the state announced its resolve to fight extremism but then this policy took a U-turn in 2003 when President Musharraf called for the revival of Taliban. If you remember, between 2001 and 2003, Taliban had been defeated in the tribal areas and there was talk of reforms in Fata. This U-turn resulted in the formation of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its subsequent attacks from the Pakistani soil, on the Pakistani soil, since then.”
On the other hand, in Afghanistan, said Rashid, the US made the same mistake in 2003 that they later made in Iraq — withdrawing too soon from a war they started and leaving a weak state to fend for itself without any means to do so.
The western forces left without having created any human or state infrastructure. “Even the little employment that had been there in Afghanistan was due to the presence of Nato forces. And then they left the country worse than before and went on to endorse two consecutive rigged elections, that caused ethnic divisions to resurface in Afghanistan.”
Hence, in other words, said Rashid, a multi-pronged problem could not be resolved with a linear and over simplistic solution. This is the age of connectivity, and that is the key to finding solutions. “Until and unless all neighbours, benefactors and stakeholders connected with Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Russia, the US, Iran, Central Asian states and Taliban factions, come to the negotiating table and agree upon a power-sharing formula and Pakistan adopts strong diplomacy, we will keep tying ourselves up in knots.”