Imtiaz Gul

After years, if not decades, an unequivocal message is resonating out of Islamabad; Pakistan desires a sovereign, democratic, united, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.  From the PM’s Office to the GHQ – all key stakeholders continue to convey to Afghan visitors as well as through the media this guiding principle of the country’s Afghan policy. There is no ambiguity about the compulsion that “geographical, cultural and ethnic proximity demands to desire for Afghanistan what we desire for ourselves.”

It will only be “irrational to think otherwise,” is the message to Afghan and foreign dignitaries, particularly those still mired in the decade old narrative on Pakistan.

From the current Pakistani  discourse on Afghanistan, one can easily discern a few strong and candid messages to Afghan leadership and people at large;

  1. we will continue to work for and support a sovereign, democratic, united, stable and prosperous Afghanistan
  2. Pakistan’s only favourite in Afghanistan are the interests of the people of Afghanistan because “people to people contacts and their promotion” is the fundamental bond between the two countries
  3. We remain committed to working with the state and people of Afghanistan – regardless of who rules Kabul
  4. Let us look at economics and trade cooperation which is a much stronger guarantee against personal agendas of a few individuals on either side of the border. Stronger trade relations provide stronger underpinnings for a durable and constructive relationship
  5. Pakistan remains committed to the post deal Intra-Afghan dialogue, which is an historic opportunity for all key stakeholders  to work for an inclusive and comprehensive way out of the current imbroglio
  6. since Pakistan itself is embroiled in so many conflict-induced challenges, Afghan officials and citizens should not mistake “lack of capacity for lack of will.” We are doing whatever we can, the Afghans are being told
  7. we should all guard against potential spoilers of the peace process. It is for the Afghans to decide for themselves which forces/countries are the real spoilers in the guise of friends. Afghans should themselves distinguish between short-term tactical benefits and the long-term dividends of friendship with country A or B.
  8. While Afghan stakeholders talk out among themselves, Pakistan stands by them for whatever support it can lend 
  9. The international community would also do good to back the reconciliation dialogue as well as remain engaged to take care of the post-conflict problems that Afghanistan is likely to face. (A case in point is  the US/Western disengagement from Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989 which entailed disastrous consequences).
  10. Externalizing Afghan problems will not help. Nor will singling out Pakistan be beneficial, particularly after the US,Russia, China, Turkey and Iran too have embraced the Afghan Taliban as legitimate stakeholders in the peace process. All these countries have their direct interests in a stable, peaceful and developing Afghanistan.
  11. The talk on support for non-state actors (Afghan Taliban) must also end after all key regional countries as well as the United States have accorded legitimacy to the Afghan Taliban as lawful interlocutors.
  12. Pakistan is more than keen to resume formal contacts based on the painstakingly well-crafted Action Plan for Afghan Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) and hopes the process can restart once the power issues in Kabul settle down
  13. We would also like Afghan friends to review their narrative on Pakistan, which itself has suffered because of its own mistakes as well as because of geo-political conflicts – all rooted  in Afghanistan
  14. Pakistan – despite a string of negative statements from out of Kabul – including those by President Ashraf Ghani even a day before the February 29 signing of the Doha Peace Deal – has exercised maximum restraint because it believes in positive engagement instead of the blame game rooted in history.
  15. Pakistan expects Afghan leaders to tone-down their hostile rhetoric to create space for constructive engagement to address issues that affect millions of people both sides of the border
  16. You cannot use the past to chart the way forward for a better present and future. Bickering over the past has cost time, lives and resources but gotten us nowhere. Let us join hands to face challenges such as the corona virus, trans-border crime, poverty and natural calamities. 

The crux of the messaging in a nutshell; Pakistan is changing, so is its foreign policy. If you want to move forward, you shall have to find a rational balance between relations with Pakistan and other countries. Rational balance in relations with all countries as a sovereign nation can beyond doubt be mutually beneficial.