Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry is a distinguished former Pakistani diplomat who served as a Foreign Secretary. He is currently the Director-General of the Institute of Strategic Studies(ISSI) in Islamabad which publishes research papers and books for policymakers around the world.
Chaudhry is cerebral and urbane who evokes respect for his professionalism among his interlocutors, including some Indian diplomats. He also occasionally writes columns in newspapers and the prestigious Pakistani daily Dawn recently published one expressing his anguish on the attitudes of the Afghan people towards Pakistan.
Chaudhry’s article merits the attention of the Indian foreign policy and strategic community for, he notes, inter alia, that despite all the help that Pakistan gave Afghanistan through many decades “today we find the majority of Afghans bitter about Pakistan."
He goes on to say, “We need to introspect what went wrong despite Pakistan’s consistent desire to have brotherly ties with the next-door neighbour."
Aizaz’s advice for introspection is really addressed to his country’s establishment which, at its core, is the army and the intelligence services. It is unlikely that they will introspect at all, for these institutions are not given to question the basic policy postulates that they have pursued with Pakistan’s neighbours.
Pakistan's Skewed Foreign Policy With Afghanistan
Nevertheless, Chaudhry’s words have a special poignancy for he correctly asserts that in helping nurture the Afghan jihad, taking part in the 'US-led' war against terrorism and giving refuge to millions of Afghans, the Pakistanis have 'altered the very fabric of their own society'.
There is no doubt that, if nothing else, Pakistan’s approaches towards Afghanistan especially since 1980, accelerated the spread of Islamism and sectarianism in that country though its seeds were present in the country’s foundational principle—'the two-nation theory', itself.
Playing The India Card
After asking Pakistan’s policy makers to “introspect” on the reasons why there is such antipathy towards their country among the Afghans, it is surprising that Aizaz lapses into a familiar lament that Indian propaganda is responsible for stirring anti-Pakistani feelings among the Afghans.
He notes that both Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and his successor “played the India card” against Pakistan and that there are reports of “heavy” Indian investments in the Afghan media to create and perpetuate the image of Pakistan as an enemy country.
As an accomplished former diplomat Aizaz would know that no propaganda, howsoever skilful and sustained, can ever accomplish what he accuses India of doing.
The feeling of antipathy towards Pakistan, though with varying degrees of intensity in all ethnicities in Afghanistan, is singularly its own accomplishment! It has deep roots despite all Pakistani protestations of “brotherly” affection towards the Afghans.
Taliban’s Strained Ties With Pakistan
It is present not only among the adherents of the erstwhile Afghan Republic but also among sections of the Taliban, the force that Pakistan fully nurtured and assisted in its different phases.
This antipathy towards Pakistan continues in the Taliban even though without Pakistan’s unstinted support, it could not have successfully waged an armed struggle for two decades after it was ousted from Afghanistan in December 2001. It is present even today when the Taliban is crucially dependent on Pakistan for supplies and also as a route for humanitarian assistance to prevent starvation and death.
The real problem in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations lies in the Pakistani establishment’s obsessive desire to control Kabul’s foreign, especially its India, policy. This is apart from the unresolved issue of the boundary. For the Afghan Pashtuns, the Durand Line is a reminder of humiliation though the issue does not resonate with equal intensity among other Afghan ethnic groups.
Further, all Afghans including the Taliban, acknowledge that the Pakistan’s approaches towards Afghanistan are driven not by altruism but by its interests. Many Afghans feel that Pakistan’s policy towards their country is a subset of its India policy. That is why it does not allow Indian goods to transit its territory thereby impeding the India-Afghanistan trade.
Resurgence of the Taliban and Shift in Balance of Power
This writer’s interaction with the Afghans, which stretches over more than twenty-five years, has convinced him that they are shrewd negotiators with sharp and realistic instincts about their own and their interlocutors' interests. Indeed, the same instincts are being now shown by the Taliban.
It is not a monolithic group but the theological hardliners are not permitting a relaxation on gender and minority issues. This is preventing its diplomatic recognition but it is taking that in its stride. Its representatives are making the right diplomatic points on Afghanistan relations with its neighbours, including India.
There is little doubt that the Taliban’s position has suffered a setback because of the Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Zawahiri's killing by a US drone in a Haqqani group safehouse right in central Kabul. At the same time while the international community will continue to insist that it cuts off all its ties with Al Qaeda, the Taliban is aware that it will not wish to throw the country into complete turmoil at a time when the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP)-- the IS terror outfit's regional affiliate, is showing some resurgence.
The way the Taliban is handling the Pakistani establishment on the issue of the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan(TTP) is also revealing. While it is not allowing the TTP a free run and is attempting to negotiate between the Pakistani state and the group it is not cooperating fully with the Pakistani establishment on this issue. Pakistan’s claim that the Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar is in Afghanistan has been stoutly denied by the group. This shows that the Taliban do not wish Pakistan to treat it as a puppet.
Aizaz’s plea that Pakistan should “treat Afghanistan as a normal, independent, sovereign country” will cut little ice with his country’s establishment and perhaps even with some Pakistani religious groups. Besides, his advice that the focus of Pakistan-Afghanistan ties should be on trade and connectivity will be wasted on the Pakistani establishment because it will continue to wish to use Afghanistan against India.
All this means that Afghan-Pakistan ties will remain troubled the Afghan people’s negativity towards Pakistan will not diminish even if they remain dependent on it for their needs as gratitude is never a quality in interstate ties.
(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached @VivekKatju. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)