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Afghanistan: perceptions

No country can exist in isolation in the age of globalisation. It has to prioritise its own interests and engage accordingly with other countries. Due to its strategic location, weak economy and decades-long rivalries with a strong neighbour, Pakistan needs cordial relations with its neighbours and other countries in the periphery.

Being a superpower, the US has special importance for Pakistan. Similarly, the importance of Iran and Russia cannot be ignored. China, a rising power, has not only been a strategic friend but has also become an economic partner. India – a historical foe and one of the largest countries in South Asia – also has to be on our priority list. However, Afghanistan – which is, comparatively, a weak and poor neighbour – is of greater importance to Pakistan. The reasons for building stronger ties with Afghanistan are manifold.

First, both countries have strong social, political and strategic links. Pakistan’s stability therefore depends on stability in Afghanistan. Second, the West views Pakistan within the context of Afghanistan. Third, Afghanistan’s situation directly affects and defines Islamabad’s relation with the US, Russia, China, India and Iran. Fourth, Pakistan has involved itself for many decades in Afghanistan and made a social and political investment that no other country can match up to.

The decade-long instability in Afghanistan and its impact on Pakistan has compelled me to explore and understand the situation in Afghanistan. I have travelled extensively to Afghanistan in my quest to develop a stronger understanding on the subject. From time to time, I have reported, written and used my TV show to highlight Afghanistan’s crises with the hope of resolving them and bringing the two countries closer. I paid a huge cost, both mentally and physically, for pursuing this aim and was even arrested by the Taliban in 1998.

At this crucial stage, when relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have touched the lowest ebb, I consider it important to share my research and understanding on the current situation in Afghanistan, its political setup, the role of the Taliban, Afghan perceptions about Pakistan and the role of various countries such as the US, India and Iran, etc. I would also like to point out the way forward for Pakistan with the hope that it will bring stability to both countries. This series consists of six articles that will be published with the special support of the editorial board of The News. This is the first article.

Our relations with Afghanistan have never been cordial, and are usually overshadowed by mutual doubt and resentment. However, the anti-Pakistan sentiments and propaganda across the border reached unprecedented levels these days and remain a cause of concern.

Previously, Pakistan was blamed by government officials, politicians and the media for sponsoring Taliban insurgency. But now the hatred and animosity against Pakistan is shared across the board. From the president in the Arg and the public on the streets to the conservative maulvi in the mosque and the liberal youth at universities, such sentiments have gained prevalence with time. Anti-Pakistan sentiments were primarily found in the north of Afghanistan. But now people on the southern Pakhtun belt have started harbouring similar feelings.

The situation has intensified to the extent that it is difficult to find anyone who is pro-Pakistan in Afghan society. If there is anyone who is pro-Pakistan, he or she cannot dare to speak favourably about Pakistan. Everyone is on the same page about Pakistan’s role in the Taliban insurgency. Many factors have contributed to these widely-held perceptions of Pakistan.

The mysterious death of Mullah Omar and the killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a US drone attack on Pakistan’s soil strengthened this belief. In a similar vein, efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table in Murree and the views of former army men – such as the late Hamid Gul, Colonel Imam, among others – contributed to the doubt that the Taliban are playing into Pakistan’s hand.

The Afghan media consistently broadcasts interviews of Samiul Haq, Sirajul Haq and Imran Khan as a charge-sheet against Pakistan’s support to the Taliban. It has also aired the interviews of the Taliban who have been arrested and claim – rightly or wrongly – that they were trained and supported by Pakistan. In addition, Musharraf’s confession of a double game in the war on terror and the views of Asad Durrani, the former ISI chief, are also being televised in Afghanistan as evidence of Pakistan’s sponsorship of the Taliban.

Moreover, most of the current Afghan political leaders, such as Hamid Karzai, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, Ustad Sayyaf and Ismail Khan, etc once worked closely with the ISI during the Afghan jihad. On the basis of their previous experiences, many of them still harbour the illusion that the ISI sponsors the Taliban insurgency as it sponsored the Afghan jihad. The anti-Pakistan external lobbies have tremendously contributed to these doubts and misunderstandings. Lobbies from the US and India have a direct influence in official circles while the Iranian lobby is active in the media and civil society. Together they are engaged in a poisonous propaganda against Pakistan.

These countries have opened the doors of their embassies and missions in Kabul for the Afghans. Frequent visits and engagement with embassies of the US, India and Iran is considered a source of pride and prestige. However, any contact or interaction with the Pakistan embassy is now being observed with suspicion and harshly criticised.

The role of the Pakistan embassy has become ineffective and reduced to routine work. Even the embassy feels that it has been alienated and rendered powerless in both the decision-making process and the overall implementation of policies. The ineffectiveness of the Pakistan embassy is indeed regrettable at such a crucial stage when Ashraf Ghani is in power.

To be continued

The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.com.pk

Saleem Safi, "Afghanistan: perceptions," The News. 2017-01-31.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political leaders , International relations , Political crisis , Political aspects , Government-Afghanistan , International issues , Politics-Afghanistan , Terrorism , Taliban , Politicians , Jihad , Mullah Omar , Hamid Gul , Asad Durrani , Russia , China , India , ISI