Prospects for Peace in Afghanistan: The Way Forward for Pakistan

Author Name: Asad Ullah Khan       13 Sep 2021    

The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul – with much-anticipated bloodshed being averted – has coincided with the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghan territory. Afghanistan for now may have managed to avoid a civil war that could have dire consequences for peace and stability in the region. Pakistan – the country most affected by turmoil across the western border in decades – has most to gain from stability in Afghanistan as the war in the western neighborhood means more refugees, increased militancy, and lesser stability on the western border. The last two decades have shown how instability in Afghanistan means greater security concerns for Islamabad; conflict across the Durand Line has spilled over on the Pakistani side of the border in the form of refugees, terrorist threats, and regional instability.

Pakistan, therefore, has always favored a stable and sovereign Afghanistan. It has been the host to the largest number of Afghan refugees (around 4 Million- registered and unregistered) in the last couple of decades. Islamabad has always emphasized over key Afghan stakeholders in the war to work for a peaceful end to the conflict so that Afghan people could enjoy tranquility and development in a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. Lately, in the Afghan peace process as well, Islamabad played a crucial role in persuading the Taliban to engage in a dialogue with the United States and other Afghan stakeholders in the war. Besides being an honest broker to help end the conflict peacefully, Pakistan has engaged with regional powers and the U.S. (on a "Troika Plus" platform) to facilitate a peaceful solution and work for stability in the post-withdrawal regional landscape. In this regard, Pakistan provided critical support to evacuation efforts which was much appreciated by the international community especially the westerns states.

The significance of the stability in Afghanistan for Pakistan's security is acknowledged by policymakers in Islamabad. Pakistan understands that instability and conflict in Afghanistan fuels militancy and terrorism in Pakistan: the absence of a strong writ of the state provides a vacuum for militant groups and proxy elements to use Afghan territory to promote instability across the border inside Pakistan. Developing prospects of an end to the conflict is good news for Pakistan as the threat of terror being spilled over in Pakistan is greatly undermined by the Taliban takeover; Kabul has reassured Pakistan that it will not allow the use of Afghan soil against Pakistan at any cost. With peace and stability more likely in Afghanistan, Pakistan is in a better position to try and settle the issue of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan with the Afghan Taliban, who pledged to prevent terrorist groups from operating on Afghan territory.

The end to America's twenty-year war in Afghanistan followed by a relatively peaceful transition of power in Kabul means that the influx of more refugees in Pakistan has been avoided. Moreover, stability in Afghanistan could pave the way for the return to Afghanistan of Afghan refugees, who currently are close to around 1.4 Million in number. Pakistan, however, has made several key efforts to protect its western border and manage the influx of refugees if it occurs – in case of turmoil on the Afghan side. Pakistan, in this regard, has completed 90 percent of border fencing. A consensus emerged in Pakistan that refugees could not be allowed to meld into the population. This made way for specific proposals that were worked on: keep refugees on the Afghan side, and if they enter Pakistan, keep them in the designated camps; seek international humanitarian aid for them; and have them get the status of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) if they remain on the Afghan side.

The relatively peaceful transition of power that took place in Kabul mitigated the immediate concern of the refugee problem for Pakistan. In addition, these developments raised the hopes of order and stability necessary to lay the foundations of economic development and regional connectivity. With China and Russian expected to enhance their diplomatic and economic footprint, greater investments for regional trade and infrastructure projects are envisaged. The opportunity for inter-regional linkages (for which stability is indispensable) under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative has increased, with Pakistan seeing its flagship project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a key component for economic connectivity envisioned through Afghanistan. This envisioning is perfectly in line with Pakistan's shift in foreign policy (indicated by the top leadership at the Islamabad Security Dialogue) from a ‘geo-political approach’ to a ‘geo-economics approach' based on regional integration, commercial connectivity, and peaceful cooperation.

Hence, Pakistan and other countries in the region have much to gain from peace and stability in Afghanistan. Peace in Afghanistan means stability for Pakistan (and the region) as it would curb militancy, constrain extra-regional intervention, alleviate the refugee problem, and brighten the prospects for economic connectivity. Pakistan, after decades of a turbulent relationship with the western neighbor, has a chance to see Afghanistan as a light of promising opportunity. Today, Kabul can be a partner for peace as Taliban leadership, too, is willing to extend the hand of cooperation while guaranteeing that Afghan territory would be used for Afghanistan's development and – not for promoting instability and terrorism against other countries in the region.

 

Asad Ullah Khan is a senior researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS) Islamabad. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com

 

Image Source: Cordenillo, R. Democracy and peace – symbiotic and mutually reinforcing. September 21, 2018.

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