Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Regional Tensions and the Responsibilities of Afghanistan 


Regional Tensions and the Responsibilities of Afghanistan 

Word has finally come out that Pakistan is to abstain from the momentous event that is set to take place in Bonn, Germany next month. The Pakistani government has announced that it will not participate in the upcoming Bonn Conference II, saying it has made the decision after the deadly NATO airstrike that killed more than 20 Pakistani soldiers in a pre-dawn attack a few days ago.

Surely, the Pakistan's decision does not bode well for the future of the war in Afghanistan and the U.S.-led project of bringing an "endgame" to the decade-old conflict. It also augurs poorly for the cause of improving relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

At a time, when the two countries, more than ever, need to sit down, empty the bag of past irritants and engage in dialogue in a constructive manner, Pakistan's decision would only further darken the cloudy horizon. But to believe that Pakistan's decision to altogether stay away from the Bonn II is simply a result of the attacks defies logic as well as the nature of politics and geopolitics in this part of the world - South Asia.

It still remains a mystery whether the strikes by U.S.-led NATO on Pakistani border posts were really a genuine mistake or a calculated act intended to provoke Pakistan into an offensive mode. Both the scenarios are equally plausible.

In the first one, in the heat of the battlefield, the "fog of war" sometimes does indeed lead to deadly mistakes - firing on own soldiers and barracks, bombing allies and friendly forces, killing of civilians and the resultant "collateral damage".

In the later case, the NATO (you read the US!) has on numerous times shown its willingness to engage in what have been blatant acts of dangerous brinkmanship - pushing for confrontation but stopping short of the start of a shooting war all in order to extract valuable political concessions from its enemy countries.

In the case of Pakistan, if the airstrikes of a few days ago (rightly diagnosed by Pakistan as being a handiwork of the U.S. rather than the NATO as a whole) were intended to provoke Pakistan, that plan has so clearly gone awfully wrong with Pakistani government ordering a blockage of NATO transit routes into Afghanistan.

It has also decided to review and reconsider the full spectrum of relations with the U.S. and the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. These are enough for placing the U.S. and its tenuous position here in Afghanistan on the tenterhooks as the idea of using the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) through Russian territory for supplying of international forces in Afghanistan is a non-starter.

Any greater dependence on the Russian territory for moving of supplies here into Afghanistan comes with a very expensive political price of securing cooperation of Russia besides being much longer and a lot more expensive.

For sure Russia and its seasoned foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, know well how to use the idea of NDN as a powerful lever in their dealings with the U.S. and NATO if the western coalition decides to give the idea of NDN a major push.

What is certain is that the international coalition in Afghanistan cannot simply lose the supply lines through Pakistan as they are the only practical route for transiting the bulk of the supplies. If the Pakistani blockade lasts longer than a few weeks, then we are going to see some wailing in Brussels and Pakistani doors being knocked. 

Strategic defiance 
Pakistan and its major centers of decision-making feel justified in being unnerved and upset about the ongoing War on Terror being waged in their neighborhood inside Afghanistan. Pakistan's increasing "strategic defiance" of the U.S., which increasingly resembles that of Iran versus the U.S., is taking on new and more serious undertones.

It views the whole business of the U.S. and NATO's presence inside Afghanistan, the whole project of building a new Afghanistan and the proposed American military presence at least until 2024 with suspicion and a sense of insecurity.

Almost every body in Pakistan from high-ranking government officials to people on the street remain convinced that the U.S. has its sights on the country's nuclear assets, which is true after all. Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, has gone to the extent of saying that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and in close vicinity of Pakistan is a major security threat to Pakistan.

As far as the second Bonn Conference on Afghanistan is concerned, Pakistan views the event as yet another U.S.-led attempt to consolidate its position in Afghanistan and the region and provide justification for its extended military presence beyond 2014.

To be fair, these security and threat perceptions of Pakistan are in fact genuine to an extent and deserve to be recognized and accommodated not only by the U.S. and the NATO but also by the government of Afghanistan.

In response to regional protests against the proposed strategic partnership with the U.S., the government in Kabul's line has been that Afghanistan will never allow its soil to be used against its neighbors. Interestingly, right after the NATO airstrikes that killed dozens of Pakistani soldiers, Pakistan lodged a formal complaint with the government of Afghanistan in Kabul. It was perhaps an indirect answer to that claim of the government of Afghanistan.

Need for a dynamic diplomacy 
The government of Afghanistan must put its act together, step upto the plate and take up and fulfill its responsibility of endeavoring to ease the tensions brewing in the region. It cannot simply turn its back on its responsibilities, close ranks and pursue a static diplomacy while the need of the hour is a smart and dynamic diplomacy aiming at reducing tensions, building trust and confidence on the regional level and breaking the many stereotypes and pre-conceived notions that contribute to holding back good state-to-state relations in our region.

The Bonn II conference is a test of Afghanistan's ability to present a favorable image of itself to a hesitant international community and demonstrate to them that investing in the future of Afghanistan is still a cause worth paying and fighting for.

With the world fast changing and many global problems and challenges mounting - from the Eurozone financial crisis to the increasingly visible impacts of climate change - the world is losing the kind of attention it has been paying to Afghanistan over the past decade. Afghanistan must rekindle that.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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