Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Peace Process; Dominance of Suspicion Over AfPak

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Peace Process; Dominance  of Suspicion Over AfPak

Perhaps, Afghan government and its international allies rightly understood that the war and peace in Afghanistan both converge in Pakistani territory. Neither war would go and nor peace would come to country without Pakistan. What remains in between is the sphere for maneuvering of Afghan government and its international allies. How they react between these two ditches links to huge considerations that Kabul government and international community have.

During years, the same situation has dominated tri-lateral relationship of Islamabad, Kabul and International Community. In this triangle, certainly Islamabad has been the biggest degree that with contraction and expansion dealt changes to the other two. On the other hand, the only sphere left for Kabul and international community was loitering in between and they were unable or were not willing, to go far away and determine a clear-cut strategy against Pakistan.

Time and again, USA and Afghanistan struggled to build a strong relation with Pakistan to win over Taliban-led militants and other insurgent groups, but were equally ineffective largely due to Pakistan's regional political and military considerations. Afghan foreign diplomacy has been working quite hard to eliminate regional concerns and ensure neighbors, including Pakistan, that Afghan soil would not ever be used as threat.

But could such insurance prove effective to change the process and bring about fundamental change in their long-lasting, rock-based foreign policies of our neighbors? It does not seem so, based on current and past symptoms. Our two strong neighbors, sharing a long border, Pakistan and Iran, still are critically worried about signing of strategic cooperation with the United States, along with other issues.
Sincerely speaking, presence of US, of course, is consequential for our both neighbors. It has been decades that Tehran and Washington are hostile, and the situation has further deteriorated during presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The continuing disobedience of Tehran from United Nations's Security Council's resolution and resorting to suspicious Uranium Enrichment Program leaves no sign of warming relationship in prospective between the two.

While, Iran is deeply involved in building more sophisticated missiles and other conventional weapons, and particularly, as many western countries claim, pursuing nuclear program largely to defend against possible attacks from Israel or, slightly possible, US.

Tehran officials deem US presence a potential danger and, thus, warned of severe reaction against its possible military invasion. It is also considered as the biggest threat to theocratic establishment through holding psychological war or soft-war. Thus, the presence of US in Afghanistan is deemed a true danger as Tehran officials view US as the biggest enemy that threatens theocratic regime.

The consideration of Pakistan is different from that of Islamic Republic. Pakistan does not deem US as threat to civil government and knows that there is nothing to entice US or any other country to attack it, except India. But there are other things that worry Pakistan, like deterioration of security situation and improvement of bilateral relationship between Delhi and Kabul.

The prospective is horrifying for Islamabad, basing calculations on previous tracks. Data at disposal shows that suicidal attacks have multiplied since 2001, when US-led military intervention ousted Taliban regime. And Pakistan was forced to cooperate with international community and eradicate al-Qaeda and other terror groups from its soil.

Pakistan had two choices ahead and had to pick one——tolerate mounting pressure of International community and being defamed as the only terror groups' supporters which would eventually justify military actions against, or hear the sounds of parts of citizens, sympathizing with Taliban militants and al-Qaeda groups. What is the choice? It rightly decided to ally with US and its allies to eradicate, or at least pretended doing so.

In response, the United States provided it with noticeable financial support to refurbish military budget boxes and fight widespread poverty in the country. But the question that could really Pakistan turned back to all its decade-long policies and cut its rock-based linkage with militants for temporary financial support of US has still remained in the envelope of suspicion and doubts because the country has its own problems and political considerations, with and without the presence of international community here.

India is deemed strongly by civil and administration officials, including military and intelligent service (ISI) which presently faces avalanche of criticism for its secret link with insurgency, as the biggest threat to territorial integrity that constantly seeks opportunity to get rid of Pakistan. This is taken for granted that Military and Intelligent service have been largely involved in supporting and training insurgent groups before 2001, and used them as means to win over its hostile neighbor, India.

Having an instable and politically disturbed neighbor can actually provide an opportunity to stick to policies it largely politically and economically invested much on. And instability in Afghanistan proves beneficial for the country, because the evils of insurgency groups can easily be exported to Afghanistan through letting them establish a government here, without having stronghold deals blow to country's territorial integrity and political stability.

In such a scenario, Afghanistan takes the role of a dustbin or more like a garbage can that the country is always able to throw 'Mullah Omers' away and let them grow on garbage excavating here, while they live a decent life or possible in complete affluence in palace-like apartments of Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and etc.

It has been the core of foreign policy during years, perhaps decades. Its realization provides Pakistan with great things that they always dream of. The ethical principles of the country remains intact and untouched as Afghanistan would take role of a humble scapegoat of the country.

The world would not blame Pakistan for mess occurs outside of the border, or if there is anything wrong, the fault or evil is equally shared by entire international community, because they do not run to prevent humanitarian catastrophe, guess for example, massacre, as occasionally carried out by Taliban.

That would be Afghanistan as safe haven of terrorism, not Pakistan. It would be Afghanistan the top producer and exporter of violence and terrorism, not indeed Pakistan. Finally, Afghanistan would be named as an evil country that constantly threatens the world security not Pakistan.

However, the statement looks illusionary but it can happen, as during decades of civil war, Afghans were disgraced as barbarians, not those who actually were pulling trigger and fuelling war. Finally, it was Afghan people punished for others' sins.

In the first part of this article, I explained the first benefit that Pakistan earns from an instable Afghanistan and withdrawn foreign forces. Here are the rests. The second benefit that an instable Afghanistan combined with complete withdrawal of foreign forces can provide to Pakistan is political stability. If Afghanistan remains instable and politically disturbed, insurgency groups, now active in Pakistan, will certainly march into and work under the leadership of Taliban militants. And they would try to establish Sharia-based government like that of Emarat Islami. Since they will have a government of their own, supported by Pakistan, and it would not be a danger to the country and there is also no reason for them to pull trigger against Pakistan.

If now they are exploding bombs and carries out suicidal attacks, they have a reason; that is to pressurize civil government in Islamabad to cut ties with the United States and other militarily involved in the country. Armed Islamists and insurgents are angry why Islamabad is engaged in supporting foreign militaries to crackdown Taliban militants, who are Muslims and was a close friend of the country during its half-century-long controversy with India. They view government culprit in the case of militants that were raised by the very military establishment.

Why the government suddenly turned back and looks with blind eyes to yesterdays' friends? Till recently they were used to be trained and financed to challenge India's military and weaponry technological supremacy as they all, without exceptions, brought by ideology to fight or wage Jihad against Hindus, worshipers of Idols, Animals, which according to Islamists' interpretation of Sharia is far worse then infidels, like those of Christians and Jews religions.

Data at disposal show freaking escalation of violence since Pakistan resolved to cut ties with militants and support international community to erase and eradicate al-Qaeda, in particular, and insurgency as general from AfPak areas. Presently, There are two different kinds of bombings in the country, those went off in public places to pressurize government through enraging people against, not terror groups, but civil government that supports foreign countries and left its Taliban brothers isolated; and, second, was far more systematic and well-organized attacks on military targets.

In the first kind, the message of bombings are mixed as mostly places were hit having more open (liberal) circumstances, where probably movies with somehow erotic contents freely sold. For instance, some shops have been targeted In Peshawar, or also there were warnings for shops selling movies in Tribal agency and etc, to warn against practices of un-Islamic traditions.

And the next message of course is sending signals to Islamabad to deal with issues cautiously and would not forget all about past friendship. If it does, and hold striking changes in foreign policies, it then will fall victim to insurgency groups' anger and get the punishment.

In the second type of attacks and bombings—targeting directly security forces base and headquarters—were sparked in response to military actions. Whenever, Pakistani troops under US pressure wedged war against militants and pressurized them in their hideouts across the country, security forces fell victim to insurgents' attacks.

Sounds are heard from all over the country, saying that before US military intervention of Afghanistan they had not witnessed violence of the kind they observe now. They constantly hold demonstration asking for military withdrawal from Afghanistan and stop drone attacks on Tribal Agency areas.

Thus, there is no doubt that presence of US military in Afghanistan fuel anger in Pakistan and since militants might not be able to target troops here, their attacks will concentrate on Pakistan to withhold supporting US and other countries' troops. The prospective is a certain nightmare for Islamabad officials as they have always expressed worries about possible US-Afghanistan signing Strategic cooperation contract.

The third benefit that country extract from an instable Afghanistan and empowerment of insurgency is having a "buffer ally" to hide behind and use it against possible India's security threats. A buffer friend in a sense that most insurgency groups, active in the country and some now emerge as fatal threat to foreign and Afghan security forces, like Haqqani network, actually established by founders against India.

That is why Pakistan not only tolerated them but also helped to empower and develop. Pakistan used them to compensate its military weaknesses against India. They provided a buffer zone. India, in order to reach Pakistani military, should have fought first with these militants for whom death is far respectable then life. Having such people on the line, Pakistan would be safe till they survive.

The presence of US means actually their death because they are two contradictory forces that would not survive along together in the same AfPak area. And of course the collapse of US seems unreasonable and unrealistic against some Taliban and other insurgency groups. In this controversy, Taliban will, if not eradicated, strikingly weakened to provide a shield for Pakistan. It will be uncovered of its hideout, exposed to, as Islamabad officials maintain, to India's threat.

With the presence of US and political stability here all the above benefits would be just washed away without receiving any benefits, except that of US financial support, which also is in pending with Washington's economic and political considerations.

And instead what it receives in return is the nightmare of political instability, fatal violence, consistent suicide bombings, weak economy as result of capital outflows, poor military establishment, and finally exposed to lasting India's threat and taking out all Pakistani supporters out of controversial part of Kashmir, for which Pakistan left no stone unturned to keep influence during past decades.

It welcomed pressure, spent huge part of it's annul income on strengthening of military establishment and weaponry technology in order to not let India to achieve its historical objective of wining over Pakistan in controversial parts of Kashmir territory. In such junction, Islamabad will loose in military antagonism and political showdown.
Islamabad officials truly understand these outcomes and that is why concerned about US military presence.

In the second part of this article I explained in detail about how an instable Afghanistan proves fruitful for Islamabad's decades-long foreign policies and provides a safety shield for the country, and also, how the presence of foreign forces, as well as a strong, stable Afghanistan can lead to wash-off dreams, which have become more like political tradition in the country.

Now here is the question, "Will Pakistani authorities once and for all break up all ties with the past and work upon fresh principles to put the corner stone of a new tradition, based on respect and bilateral interest?" and, "Is there any alternative to provide the country a new shield, replacing the old one?"

Firstly, let's answer an important question before dealing with the above two. What is the current stance of Pakistan toward Afghanistan? Did it really cut ties with militants who are constantly dealing powerful blows to democratic process and empowerment of Kabul government?

It is really a complicated question. Assessing painstakingly the status of Pakistan in statements of Afghan authorities, it moves quickly from one extreme to another: sometimes it has been called as brother and, on some other, the exporter of insurgency and safe-haven of enemies.

After the military intervention of US-led forces to the country that led outstation of Taliban regime, Afghan officials were struggling to give the impression that root causes of quagmire in the country actually have nothing to do with the Afghanistan itself. They were claiming that problems were indeed exported from beyond borders.

Thus, counter-insurgency struggle should, instead of Afghanistan, be held in Pakistan. They believed that militant are financed, trained outside and exported to country. Thus, till the international community does not fight and eradicate them outside of the country, the security situation would not recover and step on Concrete Avenue of stability.

Because, no matter to what extent the foreign forces make sacrifices and allies issue blank checks for the country, without dealing with the roots of problem, they would always remain unsolved. And if the problems are not solved from the very root and causes are not dealt with appropriately, they will be generated again and again.

It should be noticed that international community too had, somehow, a kind of trust on Islamabad. No matter how much Afghan officials were trying to convince them to pressurize Pakistan, they equally kept silence. There were two reasons for the silence. First, they thought Pakistan eventually would cut ties with militants and start cooperating with foreign countries by the course of time.

Though it might not suddenly bring fundamental changes to foreign policy, but it would be a good friend in the future. Second, foreign countries did not want to make Islamabad officials angry in extent that it once again turns back and stops cooperation in the anti-insurgency struggle.

There is also a third possibility: Kabul's foreign allies really trusted the country and that is why frequently turned deaf ears to Afghan authorities' allegations. Whatever was the reason; they actually remained silent and were avoiding taking tough stance against Islamabad.

But by the course of time, the twilight arrived to break the "silence fast". During President Mussaraf, Kabul officials, including Mr. President Karzia, were severely engaged in campaign to persuade foreign countries that Pakistan is the main factor for instability and security uncertainty here.

Frequently, President Karzia criticized Pervez Musharraf of the country's linkages with militants. Officials on the both sides were using harsh tone in verbal exchanges. Perhaps, the bilateral relation has never deteriorated between the two neighbors as it did during Pakistan of Pervez Musharraf. In 2007, when Turkey hosted both Presidents, they avoided shaking hands.

Anyhow, those verbal conflicts actually were realized in different circumstances, when President Karzia was largely supported by foreign allies and there were only minor irritations that could be solved easily for the grand cause of elimination of insurgent elements.

Afghan officials counted much on foreign engaged forces and thought that a fundamental change in warming approach towards Pakistan could force it to shoulder a greater part of insurgency challenges. But that did not occur; instead Kabul policy went into simmering change. Pakistan as hostile enemy changed into a friend and a brother; all changes occurred only in abstract form, in view and notion, not indeed on ground reality.

There were three combined factors proved effective in changing the prevalent approach and many countries openly started criticizing Pakistan: Afghan authorities' constant efforts to persuade them; by the course of time there were signs and documents of secret linkage between Inter-service Intelligence (ISI) spy agency as well as military generals; exhaustive war with indefinite ending that forced them to pressurize Islamabad.

But the approach and policy change came too late. It started taking hold after General Pervez Mosharraf when indeed Afghan officials retreated and decided to scale down criticism instead of showing responsibility of understanding neighbors' consideration where the government would stand after foreign military withdrawal.

Meanwhile, a fundamental change creeping into Hamid Karzia's administration was taking hold and bringing more friends to the circle. The process was largely due to same protraction of counter-insurgency struggle.

Both Afghan government and its foreign allies reached into a point of desperation to go for alternatives, because military solutions failed to achieve the intended results. At the same time, Pressures started mounting on Karzia's administration blaming that it has been inefficient and could not win the hearts and minds of civilians.

(It should be noticed, in good times, everybody has the large capacity to tolerate or ignore others' mistake, but in bad times, everybody starts pointing to one another). The same thing took place here. Lack of clear wining prospective led into diplomatic friction between Kabul and foreign allies.

It was explained in previous parts that how a fundamental change occurred in Afghan authorities' views toward Pakistan. But was that change the result of change in ground realities? It is the question that many hesitate to give a positive answer. Let's put it in another way. Two great things actually took place that pushed both countries inches nearer at diplomatic sphere.

The parliamentary election in Pakistan that ended the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, and the process of simmering change that was happening here, motivating authorities to go for warmer relation with neighbors. Indeed, both events paved the way for restoration of distorted relation.

Indeed, Afghan authorities, after huge struggle to convince foreign allies to pressurize Islamabad, came into an understanding that pushing the bilateral relation further on rocky avenue would not help end the security crisis here. But instead it would motivate Pakistan to revenge the country for allegations it consistently rejects. Therefore, let's try on diplomacy and strengthening bilateral relation that could lead to isolation of Taliban-led militants and ensure officials that Afghanistan wouldn't emerge as threat.

This change was welcomed by civil government in Pakistan as fresh political officials too were willing to maintain a friendly relation with Afghanistan and through that they wanted to ensure that its long-lasting friend would not tilt towards its hostile foe, India.

They clearly knew that if the situation remains tense, Kabul would be pushed further towards India, the thing which they hate the most. Thus, both found their interest actually lied on cooperation instead of confrontation. And officials on both sides changed their tone and started exchanging handshakes, patting and hugging.

There were mouthwatering diplomatic phrases used, though the prospective still remained enveloped in veil of ambiguity and vagueness. The new diplomacy was potentially accelerated by commencement of new process - peace process initiated by President Hamid Karzia.

When the relation between Kabul and international community started getting tense as the prospective of counter-insurgency struggle, after years of efforts and huge sacrifices, looked grim, both started pointing to each other.

Foreign countries were harshly criticizing President Karzia and his administration on the ground of inefficiency and incompetence to deal with its own problems and challenges. "Instead it became a burden itself", they have been claiming.

Frequently, there were reports denoting on disturbed relation between Karzia and American top general on various issues. Moreover, the situation deteriorated even more, when after presidential election in 2009, President Karzia clearly understood his status among foreign countries. Many top foreign officials openly criticized him and said the he indeed was elected by fraudulent election.

These events touched the hot spot of Mr. President and he started blaming foreign countries for counter-insurgency failure in the country. He argued that foreign donors had not deposited money to Afghan government and did not allow those funds to be spent through government channels. Instead they spent all those funds through their private companies and institutions, which finally hit failure rock. He even once went mad and strongly warned foreign forces, naming them as occupiers.

So, briefly summing, two processes went across each other. As the Kabul-Islamabad relation was resuscitating and moving back on smooth path, foreign allies started turning back and losing confidence and trust over Islamabad.

They became severely suspicious of Pakistan's promised cooperation and true intention. Thus, the Kabul fundamental diplomatic change occurred amidst growing suspicion among foreign allies on Pakistan's actual role in the country.

While, Afghan authorities were searching for friendly words in the diplomacy dictionary, foreign allies, particularly, the United States were reassessing strategy and using harsh language against Islamabad. Last year, the United States suspended its financial military package, previously promised, to Pakistan as it had serious questions which remained unanswered.

After the assassination of Osama bin Laden just miles away from Islamabad, the capital, and near to a strong military headquarter, pushed the Washington-Islamabad relation on rocky and spiked soils. On one hand, Washington officials were blaming Pakistan for his hideout and asking that whether it was possible for Pakistan armies and strong intelligence to remain unaware of the presence of one of the most wanted man in the world?

So, the answer is easy; if not impossible, then hardly possible. So, what happened to promises and commitments on fighting insurgency in general, and al-Qaeda elements, in particular? They maintained that the existence of Osama bin Laden is a sign of Islamabad's unwillingness to hunt terrorist elements.

On the other hand, Pakistani officials strongly protested against the incident and deemed the hunting of Osama bin Laden as violation of its territorial integrity. In addition, Pakistani civilians were angered too and held series of protests against US, in support of Osama Bin Laden.

As the result, civil pressures mounted as there emerged critical questions regarding the independence of the country. People were asking whether their country was independent when US without informing security officials hold attacks on their soil. There remained no choice for officials to provide relief to sentimentally hurt civilians, and accept standing against the Untied States. In the aftermath, Islamabad scaled down the level of bilateral relation, and forced many CIA personal out of the country and detailed condition for further drone attacks on Pakistani soil.

Thereafter, though Washington-Islamabad relation continued remaining tense, Kabul government tried its best to strengthen as well as deepen relation. Ostensibly, the United States though angry with Pakistan, still wants to maintain the relation and does not cut ties with it, because cutting ties actually proves far more consequential than maintaining a suspicion-based relation. So what about Afghanistan after the assassination of former President and Chief of High Peace Council, when President Karzia said that Peace talks should be held with Pakistan? I will answer it in the next part.

Though friendship between twin brothers were apparently good and normal, but as time went on, deep down, there was a growing mistrust and irritation that both officials avoided to reveal in order to save outward warm relation. Though, Pakistani officials have been pretending, at least in statements and interviews, that a stable Afghanistan with a central government would indeed benefit the country than an instable one.

But political and military analysts believe that Pakistan deep down in its heart has been truly worried about the prospective towards which the Kabul moves. Recently the Economist, a worldwide weekly magazine, wrote that Pakistan had nothing, except puppets on whom it invested enormously during past decades, quoting a retired army general, "Iran enjoys potential religious and lingual influence; India has money to invest and recruit followers; but Pakistan does have nothing except (stupid guys) devoted to the country".

Thus, it should keep relation and does not cut ties as a preemptive measure against possible situation goes against what the US and its allies promise to push and want it to become. In meetings too Pakistani officials frequently put their concerns with Afghan counterparts. But presently Afghanistan is not in a position to provide the kind of insurance that Pakistan could count on.

Thus, to warn Afghanistan of any possible perversion from the street Islamabad wants it to go, often kept promises undone and commitments unaccomplished. But, President Hamid Karzia consistently emphasized on deepening relation because he needs it for realization of his peace process project.

He clearly understands that without Pakistan, reconciliation and peace with Taliban led militants will remain in the realm of his illusionary goal. Therefore, though often the neighbor turned against and unwillingly responded to his offers, he insisted on friendship and cooperation.

See, for instance, the case of Missile firings in the eastern provinces. The series of firings led to human casualties and livestock and other economic losses, came from other side of the border did not showered Karzia's administration with anger.

Instead, it remained silent. Head of the state only called on his counterpart and other officials that what was really going on. What followed next was rejection of the attacks by army and promises that the incident would be investigated. But the investigation did not happen, if held, the result was not offered to Afghanistan as condolence for loss of citizens and relief of aggrieved families.

Recently too there were similar firings that forced several families leave residency and seek safer places in the rest of provinces where the missile cannot reach. And also people held demonstration, but the administration generally avoided to answer tit for tat. The silence and stillness against missile barrages were the signs of how President Karzia desperately sought for the empathy of Pakistan.

But persisting on keeping relation from such inferior position can not be sustained for indefinite time, without considering exceptions though. In addition, the almost ten years of Karzia's incumbency have shown that he has a bubble-like emotion that can burst if touches a nail.

Thus, the unsustainable diplomatic relation and emotional fragility of President Karzia was in need of a nail to burst. The nail finally appeared that was nothing except the assassination of former President and Chief of High Peace Council, Mr. Burhanuddin Rabbani.

His murder not only dealt a powerful blow to peace process as he was deemed a complicated figure that could entice Taliban-led militants to lay down arms and join democratic process, but also strengthened the position of those who opposed the entire peace project which has been followed with full-fledged desperation, leaving even basic diplomatic discretion ignored.

The incident also exposed mistakes committed during past six months of High Peace Council efforts that actually had made no breakthroughs instead tricked with those who had no linkage with Taliban or if otherwise, were not authorized to hold negotiation.

Thus, the revelation of failure of High Peace Council that Mr. President had much confidence on its success and the mounting domestic pressure from oppositions liquidized his solid resolve to pushing for peace process. and his administration suddenly turned back and concealed the scheduled visit of Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari and suspended the second meeting of joint peace process which was about to be held in Kabul. (However, the report was rejected later).

The measure came right after the allegation that the assassination of former President was organized in Pakistani soil. Presently, the situation has become tense and bilateral relation does not move on smooth track.

But, meanwhile, it should be noticed that Afghan government understands that Pakistan plays a major role and it has no choice ahead to challenge it and remain safe of its outcomes. Antagonism and controversy would further deteriorate the security situation as Pakistani military generals, in the absence of friendly relation, may try to fuel instability here through elements they exert strong influence on.

In another word, Afghan government rightly understands that it can not get out of two storming ditches that it has stuck within. Of course, it can cross but with consequences worse than what can result if it remains within.

Therefore, presently the government is attempting to resuscitate negotiations but with considerations of domestic circumstances. To relieve aggrieved mourners of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the government publicly bashes Pakistanis for supporting insurgency and, on the other hand, secretly asks for their help.

Weeks ago, when Hamid Karzia signed strategic cooperation with India, meanwhile, it named Pakistan as "twin brother". Seemingly, when panic decreases further down because of Mr, Rabbani's murder, Mr. President will try for restoration of relation and avoid inflammatory speeches.

Jawad Rahmani is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at jawad_rahmani2001@yahoo.com

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