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Friday, December 16, 2011

What does Pakistan want in Afghanistan?

By Najmuddin A Shaikh
Published: December 15, 2011
The writer was foreign secretary from 1994-97 and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran (1992-94) and the US (1990-91)

People in Pakistan realise that the country needs to keep its relations with the United States, its western allies and its Arab friends in the Gulf on an even keel, because these countries are the markets for our meagre exports, and the source of the remittances which, along with aid from these countries, is what keeps our fragile economy afloat. What is not equally well realised is that in Afghanistan, particularly at this time, we have convergent and not divergent interests. America wants to have a modicum of stability in that country as it prepares to withdraw its troops. Perhaps its proposed agreement with Afghanistan for a troop presence for a decade after 2014 has some sinister purpose but for the moment it seems that if reconciliation and then stability come to Afghanistan earlier the Americans will withdraw before the decade is out.
Pakistan, too, needs that stability to be able to send the Afghans – refugees and insurgents – now in Pakistan back to their country and to reassert state control on the territories that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban have occupied. They are by my reckoning at least 5 million on our soil- 1.7 million registered, an equal number unregistered and another 1.5 million who have fraudulently acquired Pakistani documents.

Pakistan needs that stability to be able to gain the economic dividends of its geo-strategic location by acting as the transit route for South Asia’s trade with Central and West Asia, and to utilise the expensively constructed Gwadar Port. On this stability depends TAPI — the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan bringing sorely needed energy to Pakistan — which will yiled substantial transit revenues as it moves to India and CASA 1000 project, the high-voltage transmission line carrying Tajik and Kyrgyz hydel-power which would ease our power shortage. Afghanistan itself has the potential to generate exports. Despite the problems it is having, Afghanistan has been able to secure Chinese investment for the Aynak Copper mine and Indian investment for exploiting the Hajigak iron ore deposits. For the product of both these projects and for the many others that will come on stream as the world seeks to take advantage of the $1 trillion worth of minerals that are said to exist in Afghanistan, the logical route for getting them to market is through Pakistan’s Gwadar port. If South and East Afghanistan remain disturbed other routes will be seen as more attractive.

Pakistan needs that stability to be able to check the rampant smuggling and the misuse of the Afghan Transit trade facility that, by my estimate, brings more than $5 billion worth of smuggled goods and 33 per cent of Afghanistan’s opium production into Pakistan. The scandal of the missing containers, now detected by the Ombudsman, is indicative of the extent to which the current instability in Afghanistan has undermined our economy. We have consistently ignored the impact of the opium trade, perhaps, complacent in the belief that all the opium or heroin that enters our borders is sent on to Europe or other destinations. The sad truth that other transit countries, notably Iran, have discovered that a substantial part of such narcotics end up being consumed in the transit country, destroy the youth of the country.

These are our economic benefits. On the security front the 350,000-strong national security apparatus that the Americans hope to have in place by the end of 2012 would, if maintained at that level, be the realisation of our security establishment’s worst nightmare. Such a force, drawn largely from the ethnic minorities —the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks — whom we regard as our adversaries, would be an ideal tool for ‘encirclement’. This force will, to justify its continued existence, have to find a cause and that could be the undoing of the Durand Line as the border with Pakistan. To survive, it will need external financing and, as and when American aid ceases, as it must, this force, which will become a dominant political force in Afghanistan, will look to regional allies to make up the deficiency. The impact of such development on our security calculus is clear. Stability will enable us to discuss with the Afghans the folly of trying to maintain the monster-size security forces and help the Afghan administration, be it led by Hamid Karzai or another elected leader, to cut this number down to the ethnically balanced 25-30,000-strong force that the Afghan economy will need and can support.
Should these clear advantages be seen as less important than the feared bogies that have led us towards skewed policies? My next article will deal with what I believe we need to do to achieve stability in Afghanistan and by extension in Pakistan.

Note: This article has been revised. The original version appeared in the print edition.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2011.

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