Afghanistan: Explore New Policy, Not New Routes
In the recent past, trust deficit deepened between Pakistan and the United States when using tough words against her ally, American President Donald Trump revived the old blame game of his predecessors Bush and Obama regarding the cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan. President Trump allegedly said that Washington could “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations”, and threatened to target the terrorists’ sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Trump stated, “We have been paying Pakistan billions of dollars, at the same time, they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting…that must change immediately.”
As regards Pakistan’s regional rival India, Donald Trump said, “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan…We want them to help us more with Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, on January 5, 2018, the US suspended $255 million of military aid to Islamabad as a condition to do more against terrorism. President Trump repeated his blame game against Pakistan through his tweets.
Trump’s tweets came a few days after the DG of ISPR Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor said Pakistan had done enough and it was time for the United States and Afghanistan to do more.” He also urged the US to “check India’s anti-Pakistan role not only from inside of Afghanistan, but also through the enhanced and increased ceasefire violations along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary”.
Pakistan’s Foreign minister Khawaja Asif remarked, “Terrorist sanctuaries are present in East Afghanistan. It is from these safe havens inside Afghanistan that terrorist attacks are being launched on Pakistan…The claim by Trump regarding the funds, if we account for it, they include reimbursements too for the services rendered by Pakistan…Our land, roads, rail and, other different kinds of services were used for which we were reimbursed.”
According to the earlier statement of the ISPR, “Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa stated that “Pakistan was not looking for any material or financial assistance from USA but trust, understanding and acknowledgement of our contributions…peace in Afghanistan is as important for Pakistan as for any other country.”
It is notable that in an interview to the “The Wall Street Journal” on January 5, 2018, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said, “He sees his country’s alliance with the US as over after the Trump administration announced the suspension of U.S. security-related aid to Pakistan…This is n’ot how allies behave.”
However, America and India, including puppet rulers of Afghanistan have always blamed Pakistan for cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan to divert attention from the acts of sabotage, which they have been arranging in Pakistan. And the US wants to divert attention of its people and other NATO countries’ public from the prolonged war in Afghanistan where their forces are facing defeat.
It is mentionable that the US-led NATO has relied heavily on Pakistan bound routes to sustain her forces and projects in Afghanistan. Routes through Pakistan considered shortest and cheapest and presently are safe from previously launched militant attacks. At the same time, the US-led NATO has always been searching for alternative routes to clear for history of uneven relations with Islamabad. Northern Distribution Network moving through Latvia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan had a cost of 250% more than the Pakistani routes. However, this time, the US is at odds with Russia and does not want to depend upon Russian-based supply routes.
Hence, America is exploring new route to sustain her forces in Afghanistan through Caspian Sea. In fact, this route is not totally new and has been considered in the past as well. This route originates in the Georgian port of Poti on the Black Sea and crosses Azerbaijan before arriving in Baku. From there, goods are loaded onto ferries for their journey across the Caspian Sea. The supplies make at Kazakhstan’s west coast ports of Aktau and Kuryk, and then proceed to Uzbekistan before entering Afghanistan. Kazakhstan has agreed for allowing supply of nonmilitary nature of the goods only which comprises of toothbrushes, fuels, computers, night vision goggles, concertina wires, packaged water, food and construction material. Coast on this route is even more than the Russian route, as it involves multiple loading and transfer charges.
The new route is not the case of simple mathematical calculations of cost, as it also involves complex inter countries politics. The US-Russian relations are tense at the moment and the later faces US sanctions. Nevertheless, the US needs to understand that Russia is a substantial regional power. Russia enjoys supremacy over the Caspian Sea and has considerable influences over regional countries, especially over the Central Asian states. History of Russia-Georgia relations is also not very bright. Moscow cannot allow Georgia to become open ally of Washington and NATO. Cost effectiveness as well as uncertainties of the regional politics will keep the proposed route under doubt which US will least like.
Therefore, instead of exploring new routes, the US needs to explore new policy options. In this respect, better understanding of regional sensitivities will help America to better influence the situation in Afghanistan.
Now, relations of the US with Pakistan have starting moving back to their lowest point, caused by Presidents Trump’s Tweet situation. But, it is good sign that the US authorities have hinted of better understanding of Pakistan’s concerns. Both the countries are engaged in a renewed dialogue process and better signals are emanating from each. Recent military action against anti-Pakistan militants in Afghanistan are also an important step in the right direction. On its part, Islamabad has also stepped up efforts in pursuing Afghan Taliban to come on the negotiation table. Few analysts view that recently floated Afghan Taliban letter to the US public as an effort, linked with Pakistan.
Besides, in view of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s positive negotiation offer to the Taliban and their mutual response, one can see a ray of hope in Afghanistan.
It is mentionable that during his visit to Kabul, the US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said on March 13, this year: “We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan…Not a military victory…the victory will be a political reconciliation with the Taliban, which has achieved a stalemate in recent years and shown little interest in conceding to the Kabul government.”
Similarly, Pakistan has recently taken steps to address concerns of international community prior and after being put on the grey list of FATA. The US nod to engage in dialogue with Islamabad is seen as recognition to Pakistan’s importance in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, Pakistan and Afghanistan are on the course of redefining mutual relations. Latest high-level exchange of warmth has been witnessed during the visit of National Security Advisor (NSA) Lt. Gen. (Retd) Nasser Janjua to Afghanistan on March 17, 2018. NSA had meeting with the top Afghan leadership, including President Asharaf Ghani. In his remarks, NSA reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to help with peace in Afghanistan to improve bilateral relations. After having successful dialogue with the NSA, President Ghani had invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for a visit to start comprehensive dialogue, who visited Kabul on April 6, this year. He had meeting with President Ghani and top officials of the Afghan government.
These meetings have helped narrow a trust deficit not only between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also between Pakistan and the US and will prove to be a milestone in promoting regional peace.
At this crucial hour, while the US and Afghan administrations intend to pursue peace option through dialogue, all the stake holders in Afghanistan need to understand new ground realties. Instead of arm twisting, better option for Washington is engagement of the regional countries, especially with Pakistan. On the other side, Pakistan needs to put in her best efforts to help build peace in Afghanistan through its coordination with regional partners as well as with the extra regional partners.
In this connection, America must also rollback the secret network of the American CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad which are based in Afghanistan, and are collectively weakening Pakistan and China as part of the double game of the US-led India and Israel. By following the conflicting interests, the US-led countries are deteriorating Pak-Afghan relations to obtain their covert aims, and are encouraging New Delhi to continue anti-Pakistan moves.
Notably, regarding Indian activities in Afghanistan the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal had pointed out: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.”
Nonetheless, Pakistan shares common geographical, historical, religious and cultural bonds with Afghanistan. America and its Western partners which also spent billions of dollars for the development of Afghanistan, have repeatedly recognized that Pak-Afghan stability is inter-related, which is essential for their global and regional interests. They know that without Islamabad’s help, stability cannot be achieved there. However, stability and peace is as important for Afghanistan as for Pakistan.
We can conclude that instead of searching for alternative supply routes for Afghanistan, which are longer and very costly, the US-led NATO countries must better continue the short and cheapest route of supply through Pakistan. They need to explore new policy, not new routes.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations