Af-Pak Relations

Pakistan’s government has reiterated its good wishes to Afghanistan’s incumbent president, Ashraf Ghani who won a slim majority of votes in September’s election. The poll was not a smooth process, as it plunged the country into a political crisis; and allegations of fraud marred it. Pakistan welcoming preliminary results tells that Pakistan considers a democratic Kabul essential for the political stability of the war-torn country. The completion of the election process will have far-reaching consequences on the security of the region as well. However, the days ahead are not only crucial for the Afghan government but Pakistan as well.

Just a month ago, the president of the United States (US) Donald Trump restarted peace negotiations with the Taliban. The future political landscape of the country can turn upside down in case Trump’s negotiation team strike a deal with the Afghan Taliban without securing any guarantees for the incumbent Afghan government. Trump is in a hurry to strike an agreement with the Afghan Taliban before the 2020 presidential elections. And the haste can lead to a negotiated settlement that can undermine the present political set up in Afghanistan. Such a negotiated settlement that can undermine Ghani’s government is what Pakistan needs to avoid.

For the Afghan government, Pakistan’s goodwill gestures and messages of working together for regional stability will not matter if the Taliban carry on with their attacks in a post-war Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan needs to convince the Taliban to come to a dialogue table and reach a power-sharing formula with the Afghan government. In the absence of any such formula or understanding, avoiding a bloody civil war will be impossible. And the most vulnerable ones will be ordinary Afghans. The task ahead of Pakistan is very critical. If Pakistan succeeds in bringing the Taliban to agree on power-sharing with Ghani’s government, the Afghan people will think of Pakistan as a country that really cares for them.

Anything short of this will harm Pakistan’s interests in the war-torn country. And Pakistan cannot afford to lose Afghanistan or Afghan people. The policymakers in Islamabad need to understand that India is enhancing its influence in the country through investing significantly in infrastructure projects across all of Pakistan.

Pakistan, on the other hand, under a severe economic crunch, cannot compete with India financially. The only way Pakistan can create a positive image and perception in Afghan people minds is by playing its role in saving the country from a civil war. And the looming civil war can be averted if Pakistan succeeds in making the Taliban accept the incumbent government as one that is truly representative of the Afghan people.

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