What does Pakistan think of Afghanistan

Study of Pakistan's Interests in Afghanistan: Fear and Prejudice

The importance of Pakistan for the further course of the unfortunate Western engagement in Afghanistan is now generally understood. Most of the actors are far less clear about what Pakistan actually wants in Afghanistan. A study that the government-affiliated Jinnah Institute, in collaboration with the United States Institute of Peace, presented in Islamabad at the end of August is now trying to fill this gap. The paper, titled Pakistan, the United States and the Afghanistan Final: Perceptions of Pakistan's Foreign Policy Elite, is required reading for anyone concerned with the region, especially with the upcoming Afghanistan Conference in Bonn in December.

The result is disillusioning: Pakistan's goals and plans for Afghanistan are just as unclear and contradictory as those of Washington and Berlin. Above all, Pakistan continues to adhere to the problematic goal of wanting to have a say in who is in power in Kabul. This is the result of several rounds of talks and one-on-one interviews with a total of 53 former diplomats, military, security analysts, academics and journalists, whose positions can be regarded as representative of the thinking of the Pakistani establishment. The respondents are by no means unanimous on every point. Many are even extremely critical of the prevailing security doctrine, but they do not seem to believe that anything can be changed in the fundamental lines of Pakistan's foreign and security policy, which is still determined not by the government but by the army.

The US, but also Germany, must ask itself which of Pakistan's interests can be considered legitimate and which run counter to peaceful and stable development in the Hindu Kush.

The study names two main goals for Pakistan in Afghanistan:

  • A solution for Afghanistan should not contribute to the destabilization of Pakistan and meet resistance from the "Pakistani Pashtuns".
  • The government in Kabul should not work against Pakistan, nor should it allow Afghan territory to be used against Pakistani interests.

According to the experts, it is in Pakistan's interest:

  • a "relatively stable" government in Kabul
  • an “inclusive” government with “adequate Pashtun participation” that is accepted by all ethnic and political stakeholders
  • as well as a restriction of Indian activities in Afghanistan to pure development aid

This short list already contains all the problems that have characterized Pakistan's policy towards Afghanistan over the past few decades. Although hardly anyone in Islamabad longs for a return of the 1990s with a sole Taliban government in Kabul, Pakistan still believes that the only way to ensure a friendly government in the neighboring country is that “Pashtuns” are “adequately” in the government are involved in.

In view of the fact that the country's president-elect, Hamid Karzai, is Pashtun and that there is no shortage of Pashtuns in his cabinet, the question arises as to which Pashtuns would like to see Islamabad in the government. The study gives the answer: “Participation of the most important Taliban factions”, namely Mullah Omar's “Quetta Shura” and the “Haqqani Network” (both based in Pakistan) is essential.

Pakistan is stubbornly sticking to the foreign policy chimera that the Taliban represent “the Pashtuns”. But that doesn't even apply in your own country, let alone in Afghanistan. The (Pashtun) political scientist Farhat Taj, Research Fellow at the University of Oslo, accuses the study by the Jinnah Institute of using the term “adequate Pashtun participation” as a mask for the fact that Pakistan is still adhering to the military doctrine of “strategic Depth ”in Afghanistan, although this was no longer politically correct after“ September 11, 2001 ”. She describes the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network as "marginal elements of Pashtun society".

Indeed, since its inception, Pakistan's policy has been determined by concerns that Afghanistan and Pakistan's Pashtuns might unite to form a “Pashtunistan” and thus seal Pakistan's state collapse. Pakistan has therefore always worked to split the Pashtuns politically and successfully exported the problem to Afghanistan through the support of radical groups such as the Taliban.

While Islamabad has a legitimate interest in the integrity of its state territory and the stability of the neighboring country, the claim to participate in the occupation of the government of a sovereign state is to be rejected. “Strategic depth”, a concept that regards Afghanistan as a safe hinterland in the event of a war with India, may also be desirable from the army's point of view - but if it is to result in subordination of Afghanistan, it is not justifiable under international law, and according to many experts now even militarily obsolete.

Since “the West” has meanwhile also given up the idea that the future government in Kabul could be a democratic one, it is to be feared that Pakistan's positions will remain unchanged.

Anyone who hopes Islamabad will help bring the Taliban to the negotiating table should also read the study carefully. There it is said that it is "unclear whether the Taliban are ready to take part in a political reconciliation process or" to communicate with the US beyond a certain point ". The journalist and security expert Ejaz Haider, who contributed to the study, therefore warns: “It is clear that the Afghan Taliban are suspicious of Pakistan. The question arises whether and to what extent Pakistan can influence this process at all. "

Which has not yet prevented Islamabad, Washington or Berlin from selling a “reconciliation” with the Taliban as a solution to the problem. But politics is bad with vague hopes.

The study also shows that Pakistan's Afghanistan policy is still driven by fear of being encircled by archenemy India. Given India's popularity in Afghanistan and the sheer variety of its activities there (India is now the sixth largest donor in Afghanistan), this is a legitimate concern. To expect that New Delhi will limit itself to development aid while Pakistan has a say in the Afghan government is, to put it mildly, somewhat unrealistic.

It is optimistic that many Pakistani experts are of the opinion that the “security-centered policy approach” towards Afghanistan has caused Pakistan to lose its reputation there. The fixation on a real or imagined Indian threat is also viewed with skepticism. Instead, they are calling for a greater focus on common interests such as bilateral trade, energy and infrastructure, and reconstruction. Islamabad should also try harder to enter into talks with Afghan actors other than the Taliban. However, the study notes that this would be a 180 degree turn in traditional Pakistani Afghanistan policy.

A hasty withdrawal of ISAF troops in 2014 is not wanted in either Pakistan or Afghanistan (and also not in India), because the outlined peace perspective or even a minimum of stability can only be realized if Afghanistan does not sink into civil war. In this context, the Pakistani experts warn of a danger that has received little international attention so far: a split in the Afghan National Army along ethnic lines.

The greatest uncertainty factor therefore remains the question of whether the Taliban are willing to agree to a political agreement while foreign troops are still in the country. As long as no solution is found that takes into account the interests of large parts of the Afghan population and the most important neighboring countries, a withdrawal of NATO would leave scorched earth behind.

The following results for German and international policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan:

  • The attempted, false ethnicization of the Afghanistan conflict must be contradicted and instead a political solution must be sought that is approved by a majority of the Afghan people.
  • Pakistan's legitimate security interests need to be taken into account. Kabul should therefore be convinced to recognize the Durand Line (which separates Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns) as an international border, so that the issue of Pashtunistan does not stand in the way of a peace solution.
  • New Delhi should be urged to make its activities in Afghanistan transparent.
  • All three countries should be supported in making greater use of the region's economic potential (including others such as China, Iran, the Central Asian republics).
  • Berlin should also give more support to those in Islamabad who are skeptical of the “security-centered approach” of the military establishment. A stronger influence of the democratically elected government on Pakistan's foreign and security policy is necessary in order to pacify the region.

This requires more time than the 2014 withdrawal date allows for NATO troops.

This article initially appeared in a slightly changed version at taz.de.


Afghanistan 2011 - 10 years of international engagement

After ten years of international deployment in Afghanistan, another Afghanistan conference will take place in Bonn in December 2011. The Heinrich Böll Foundation has been actively supporting civil society development in Afghanistan since 2002 and promotes exchange between the German and Afghan public. The following dossier provides space for comments, analyzes and debates in the run-up to the Bonn conference on Afghanistan.