As Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai visits India to confer with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh media reports suggest that he is seriously rethinking his approach towards reconciliation with the Taliban. The stability of the region is indivisible. Peace will continue to elude the region unless Afghanistan, Pakistan and India reach a mutually accepted settlement. And the prospect of settlement with Pakistan, both governments are painfully beginning to realize, is becoming more remote by the hour. Settlement will be possible only if certain basic truths are recognized and Pakistan is willing to comply. Failing that it is a waste of time to seek peace. Both Kabul and New Delhi would have to devise an altogether different strategy to deal with Pakistan.
What are the basic truths that need to be recognized?
- First, it is the Pakistan army and not the civilian government with which a settlement must be hammered out. The civilian government is merely following the army’s agenda.
- Secondly, the Pakistan army is determined to keep India out of Afghanistan which it believes would facilitate Pakistan achieving total control over Afghanistan.
- Thirdly, Pakistan’s long term strategy is formulated by Beijing to fulfill its hegemonic agenda for South Asia. Need one recall that President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, General Kayani and ISI Chief General Shuja Pasha had all urged President Karzai to dump America and come into the fold of the Sino-Pakistan axis?
The murder of peace negotiator Burhranuddin Rabbani can create a situation of civil war in Afghanistan unless President Karzai distances his government from Pakistan and the ISI which is suspected to have plotted the murder. The best way of avoiding civil war in Afghanistan would be to create a federal system of governance granting a measure of autonomy to the non-Pashtun regions of Afghanistan. Former Presidential candidate Mr. Abdullah Abdullah had suggested it. This might be just acceptable to Pashtun warlords including the Taliban if free movement and cooperation is legitimized between the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The largely Pashtun tribes of Pakhtunkhwa Khyber province and the FATA region of Pakistan must be made fully accessible to their tribal brothers of Afghanistan.
The Pakistan army would not accept this. Neither would the Pakistan army accept any Indian role in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s fear of Indo-Afghan cooperation is irrational and fraudulent. It is being propagated because of Beijing and not because of any strategic considerations of Pakistan. For future trade and contacts India can reach Afghanistan only through Pakistan. Given these constraints how might President Karzai and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh overcome the resistance of the Pakistan army to cooperate?
At the risk of repetition there is only one sure guarantee that Pakistan will sincerely cooperate. Islamabad must enter into a joint security arrangement with Afghanistan and India involving the armies of all three nations. That would render free trade between the three nations as a natural corollary. It would also imply that Islamabad cannot have the same relationship with America or China that it would with India and Afghanistan. Can Rawalpindi conceivably agree to this? There are just two cards that the Afghan President and the Indian Prime Minister can play to possibly win over the Pakistan army.
Given Pakistan’s acceptance of this proposal Kabul should be prepared to recognize the Durand Line as the recognized border and New Delhi should recognize the Line of Control as the international border implying the legitimacy of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. That would allow free movement across both borders without in any way compromising the sovereignty or security of Pakistan. The Afghan President and the Indian Prime Minister might seriously consider this proposal and the modalities of conveying it to Islamabad. This is the litmus test for Pakistan. If the Pakistan army does not comply more time should not be wasted. Time is running out. Alternative strategies would have to be sought.