Pakistan’s decision to join the Heart of Asia Conference and sending its top diplomat, Sartaj Aziz, was highly debated inside Pakistan. However, most of the media personalities who have understanding of the diplomacy and International relations, endorsed the decision but cautioned Mr. Aziz to get ready for the bumpy ride while in India. Pakistan’s decision somewhat put India in dilemma, which is described by India’s former Congress MP of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, ” there is going to be little applause and less sympathy for India in the chancelleries of the world when we turn up our nose at Sartaj in Amritsar. India would be regarded as the stick in the mud while Pakistan gets away with the image of being both a warrior against terror and a party only too willing to settle matters through dialogue with India.” Some experts believe that Mr. Modi wanted to use the Heart of Asia Conference platform as an opportunity to isolate Pakistan, like he tried to use BRICS in Goa, where he appeared to have world leaders — including Russia –unimpressed. Just days after the BRICS summit, Indian media realized that Mr. Modi’s orchestrated platform to isolate Pakistan was a miserable failure. In his speech in the Heart of Asia moot, he carefully attacked Pakistan without mentioning the name, however, Afghan President, Mr. Ashraf Ghani was very prompt in suggesting by directly addressing Mr. Sartaj Aziz to divert the US $500M which Pakistan had pledged for the development of Afghanistan, to “contain extremism”. Afghan President’s frustration is somewhat understandable which even Mr. Sartaj Aziz also highlighted. He called Mr. Ghani’s comment although “regrettable” but he also confessed that his comments were the reflection of his anxiety because of the increasing intensity of insurgency in Afghanistan. After arriving Islamabad, Mr. Aziz said while talking to the reporters who asked his response to Mr. Ghani’s remarks, “We don’t need any pressure on counter terrorism because we have done more than any other country to eliminate it. Our relations with Afghanistan stand independently… there is a lot interaction because we are next-door neighbors…India’s efforts to divide us will not go very far.” Instead of playing in the hands of Mr. Modi’s ambitious plan to isolate Pakistan and impose a solution of Kashmir on Pakistan on India’s terms, Afghanistan government must realize that terrorism problem is much more complicated and complex than simply alleged Pakistani safe heavens. In September 2016, Commander of NATO’s Resolute Support and US-Forces-Afghanistan, General John Nicholson said that only 10% of Afghan population is controlled and around 20% of the population is contested by the Taliban Jihadists in Afghanistan which he called a “positive” development. He, however, sidestepped a question when asked about how much territory of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. According the media report in Sep. 2016, senior Afghan government official said that as much as 50% of Afghanistan’s territory is controlled by Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani does not allow any journalists – including Afghans – in the Taliban contested and controlled areas, just to hide the truth to come out and the people would know that their country is falling back into the hands of Taliban. Ashraf Ghani – besides his rival “Chief Executive” Mr. Abdullah Abdullah – is also facing troubles because of the rampant corruption in the Afghan Security forces. The ammunitions sent to the troops to help fight the encroaching Taliban, mysteriously disappears leaving the soldiers with empty magazines.
After forming the government, President Ashraf Ghani took a bold initiative to break the status quo and reach out to Pakistan and adopted the conciliatory approach. His goal was to urge Pakistan – which claims its leverage — to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. He had to face the backlash for his actions. Pakistan, overestimated its leverage over Taliban and promised Mr. Ghani to bring Taliban to the table. A framework — Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) — under the Heart of Asia/Istanbul Process was agreed upon, which included Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, whose main manifesto was to facilitate talks between the government in Kabul and the warring Taliban faction. After the first meeting in Murree, the news about Mullah Umar’s death was released which completely sabotage the peace process. Due to lack of any clear policy by Pakistan and Afghanistan towards Taliban, the QCG couldn’t serve its purpose and after the drone attack in Baluchistan, which killed the Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Akhter Mansoor, the QGC had to face a fatal blow.
As Mr. Aziz confessed, the growing incidents of terror attacks in Afghani soil, Mr. Ghani is becoming more and more vulnerable and India – where the right-wing Hindutva leadership still believes that the world is unipolar and they can simply convince US and get Pakistan declared a terrorist state — is exploiting its weakness to settle scores with Pakistan. Pakistan has serious concerns about the Indian operatives inside Afghanistan who are provoking the insurgency inside Baluchistan. Afghanistan should not allow India to use its territory to breakup Pakistan. Afghanistan must also address the issues of terrorists who ran from Pakistan and now operating inside Afghanistan. Mr. Ghani claims that Afghan forces launched several operations against those but were not successful. He asks Pakistan how many operations Pakistan launched against those who are operating inside Afghanistan.
In US Institute of Peace Special Report, published in July 2015, Dr. Moeed Yusaf and Scott Smith wrote “President Ghani’s calculus derives from the same logic that drove Karzai’s policy—namely, that Pakistan is the problem and, absent a change in Pakistan’s attitude, Afghanistan will not stabilize. But, unlike Karzai, Ghani has repeatedly emphasized that the fundamental problem is not the Taliban insurgency itself but an “undeclared state of hostilities” between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He sees the Taliban as a symptom of this problem, not its essence. While Karzai tried to shame and coerce Pakistan into cooperation, Ghani has sought to make it a part of the solution by trying to convincingly address its concerns in relation to Afghanistan in a way that preserves both countries’ interests.” It’s true that Afghanistan has to work with Pakistan in managing the borders – which so far Afghanistan is not very enthusiastic in cooperating – however, Mr. Sartaj Aziz recently said that Taliban leaders are living in Pakistan and using medical facilities in Pakistan. General Musharraf, as well, revealed that during his regime spies in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had secretly supported Taliban after 2001 because the government of President Hamid Karazai had an overwhelming number of non-Pashtuns and officials who were said to favor India. So, Pakistan should shut down financial supplies to Taliban insurgents. Pakistan should threaten them of deporting their families if they will not call off violence against Afghan government. Pakistan should arrest Taliban fighters who are taking refuge inside Pakistan and exchange the prisoners with Afghanistan, after making some agreement with Afghan government so that the prisoners will not be exploited by the rouge Afghan officials for anti-Pakistan propaganda purposes.
The Taliban problem is much bigger than what Mr. Ghani’s claim about Taliban cannot stand a day without the help of Pakistan. General John Nicholson, the US commander in Afghanistan, was accusing Iran and Russia of supporting the Afghan Taliban. Experts argue that Russia and Iran believe that the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan is a much bigger threat to them. They support Afghan Taliban to counter the ISIS threat in Afghanistan. Actually, Pakistan and Afghanistan problem may be just a subset of the bigger issue of the region, which is the Pakistan-India rivalry. All the regional cooperation moots are influenced by the Pak-India relations. The whole world must understand that the unbalanced diplomacy towards the Pak-India conflict – which became significantly unbalanced during Clinton’s office, and continued, even strengthened, during Bush’s Presidency and then in Obama’s Presidency — is further driving the world towards the dangerous future. Pakistan’s security paranoia will never subside as long as it will feel threatened by the powerful India which is seen by the West, not only as the huge market for business, but also as a potential military tool, which can be used to contain China’s growth and later, if necessary, can be used as a launch pad to operate in the Southeast and Central Asia. President-Elect Trump’s offer and now Iran’s offer to help resolve the conflict is very welcoming and if the US would orchestrate a balance diplomacy, resolution of Afghan problem will not be very far fetched.