The source of all of the menaces emanating from religious radicalism and international terrorism in South Asia lies in the erratic behavior of the Pakistani military leadership. It is mind-boggling for many of us in the region and beyond to understand the rationale and logic behind Pakistan’s destabilizing regional strategy, which consists of using radical Islamist groups as a foreign-policy tool for an ambiguous and obsolete strategic goal.
All this while Pakistan has the potential to become a successful example of an economic miracle in South Asia, as South Korea did in East Asia, provided it follows the right path.
Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has been an exceptional country, emerging as an important strategic partner of the United States, as a vital ally of Saudi Arabia, and as a valuable asset for China. In addition, it has become a nuclear power without bearing the negative consequences that North Korea and Iran did from their nuclear ambitions.
Pakistan, a model of economic development in the 1960s and 1970s, has steadily fallen behind its arch-rival India in terms of economic development and military parity. In addition, its support for radical terrorist groups that have been undermining stability in South and Central Asia has backfired, and now it is payback time, because growing ethnic and political division has damaged its internal stability, and the country is being put on the path of self-isolation, following the example of North Korea.
Actually, Pakistan’s military is paranoid because of the emergence of India as a regional economic and military power. Its military defeat by India in 1971, which led to the partition of the country and creation of Bangladesh, still haunts it. In addition, the military General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi has always feared the prospect of another partition on the western border, because Pashtun and Baloch tribes were never consulted on the concept of Pakistan, were forced to join it without being fully integrated, and remain second-class citizens.
Pakistan’s myopic behavior and foolish militaristic ambition of controlling Afghanistan and containing India’s rise as a regional power has undermined economic integration between South and Central Asia
In fact Pakistan’s myopic behavior and foolish militaristic ambition of controlling Afghanistan and containing India’s rise as a regional power has undermined economic integration between South and Central Asia, and thus denied us Afghans and its own people the benefit of our geo-strategic position as a land bridge between the two regions.
After the Soviet military exited Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan had an opportunity to help Afghanistan recover from a bloody war and capitalize on the tremendous sympathy it enjoys among Afghans for its support for the mujahideen and hosting millions of refugees with warmth and open arms. However, the military leadership stabbed us in the back as a nation and wanted us to surrender our pride, which is our freedom and kneeling before the GHQ.
During the 1990s while Afghanistan was mired in bloody civil war, Pakistan instructed its stooges and proxies to destroy our modern military hardware, a tremendous investment and a bequest left by the former Soviet Union, our economic infrastructure, and our national and cultural identity, and thus wanted to turn our land into an extension of its own territory.
However, not only did Islamabad fail in Afghanistan, it suffered enormous consequences because it became isolated at the regional level, missed the wave of economic development in Asia, and its main regional rival, India, embarked on a fast-track economic and military modernization outpacing Pakistan in every field.
The US military intervention and collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001 served as a unique opportunity for Pakistan to rectify its past policy mistakes and regain its leverage in Afghanistan by fully cooperating with the United States. But the leadership in Rawalpindi has continued its hidden agenda in Afghanistan and effectively deceived the United States while reaping the benefits of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military presence in Afghanistan.
In fact many countries envy Pakistan’s uniqueness and its military’s ability and diplomatic skills that have enabled them to challenge a superpower like the United States for the past 17 years and still benefit tremendously from Washington’s military and financial assistance. Many of us Afghans were puzzled by the US-Pakistan relationship, until President Donald Trump made a bold decision to link the success of his administration’s South Asia strategy with full compliance by Pakistan.
We Afghans sincerely believe that a stable and economically prosperous Pakistan is in our national interest, because we are economically dependent on Pakistan and the Port of Karachi is our main exit gate to the rest of the world. Therefore, we value our friendly and brotherly relationship with Pakistan despite past grudges.
Meanwhile, the new administration in Pakistan led by Imran Khan, and a brave decision by the United States to make Pakistan accountable in Afghanistan, has created a new opportunity for Pakistan’s military leadership to review and rectify its failed policies in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan and Pakistan both suffered from the US disengagement from the region immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, and history could be repeated, once again with dire consequences for both countries. In addition, Pakistan has become economically vulnerable and dependent on financial assistance from the outside world. Losing US financial and military assistance will be a big blow for Pakistan, and no other country including China will be able to fill the vacuum left by the United States in the region.
Trump has received bipartisan support for his South Asia strategy, and we have the feeling that it might be the last chance for Afghanistan and Pakistan to receive unequivocal support from the United States and its NATO allies. In addition, a US exit from Afghanistan without an acceptable political settlement would become a prelude for another civil war in the country with dire consequences for the entire region and particularly for Pakistan.
Therefore, the outcome of the current negotiations between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the new civilian leadership of Pakistan, which have the full blessing of the top military brass, is of high importance for Afghanistan and for all of South Asia, because Pakistan’s collaboration in the peace process is vital for us Afghans and for the stability of South and Central Asia.