Huzaima Bukhari, Dr. Ikramul Haq & Abdul Rauf Shakoori
The peace deal between the United States (US) and Taliban is turning into a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. Seizure of power by Taliban is resulting in closure of embassies in Kabul and termination of diplomatic relations. Suspension of financial and non-financial aid by US and European countries is adversely impacting Afghanistan’s economic situation. Additionally, freezing of Afghan Central Bank assets worth USD 9.5 billion by US authorities has enhanced economic miseries rendering Afghanistan’s banking system on the verge of collapse while health facilities are running out of medical supplies.
World Health Organization has already warned about shortage of medical supplies essential for treating millions of people in Afghanistan. Similarly, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) also raised its concerns related to food insecurity. The statement quoted that around 14 million people including 2 million children are severely hungry. Majority of Afghans are fleeing taking refuge in neighboring countries. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that by end of 2021 around half a million Afghans may seek to leave their country.
Unfortunately, the situation in Afghanistan might get worse as there is no hope of stability in the near future. Taliban’s return to power after 20 years with no opposing force has given them a free pass to implement their kind of Islamic principles. Certain instances are reported wherein Talibans were found prohibiting girls from attending schools, curtailing freedom of speech, barring females from playing their respective roles in different sectors, forcing people to observe their version of Islamic principles because of which people’s life is becoming more miserable and a negative image of Islam is portrayed at the global level.
How would the overall situation in Afghanistan impact Pakistan? There is no doubt that the long-drawn war on terror started against Taliban for siding with Al-Qaeda, the only non-NATO ally Pakistan suffered a huge financial loss to the tune of USD 123 billion. Additionally, Pakistan lost thousands of civilians and soldiers including law enforcement officials in suicide attacks, bomb blasts and drone attacks. Despite being the most affected partner of the war against terror, Pakistan’s role was viewed suspiciously by the US multiple times.
This distrust in relationship that began in the last days of President Bush has left Pakistan in a precarious position. During his election campaign, President Obama resolved that he would not hesitate from acting within Pakistan if necessary. He clarified that Pakistan’s sovereignty was subservient to US interests and he would attack with or without the approval of Pakistani government, which he proved through drone attacks and later via Abbottabad Operation. In his first interview, he informed that US troops were already in Pakistan, and his country would continue with drone attacks. Similarly, his successor, Donald Trump further tightened its policy towards Pakistan. During his tenure, US not only reconsidered its foreign policy towards Pakistan, cutting financial aid including collations support fund but also moved motions in the Financial Actions Task Force (FATF) to blacklist the country on the allegations of financing terrorist groups. They completely ignored Pakistan’s sacrifices and the role played to restore peace in the region. Trump’s administration initiated peace talks with Taliban leaving Pakistan out and finally, both U.S and Taliban signed a peace agreement in February 2020 that on one hand talks about release of terrorists whereas on the other, assures removal of sanctions on Taliban while it also mentions Afghanistan’s future political role.
This entire process led by the US and Taliban ultimately paved the way for Taliban’s capture of power in August 2021. President Biden is under severe criticism for withdrawing forces and leaving the Afghans at the mercy of Taliban. Even Germany, unhappy with this development severely criticized US. Efforts are being made to normalize the situation with even the CIA chief secretly visiting Kabul to discuss future strategy. For Pakistan, it is time to closely observe the entire situation and continue to convey its security-related concerns to the global community.
However, visit of DG Inter-Services Intelligence to Kabul and interaction with international media, brought a new twist to the situation that shifted the blazing guns of criticism towards Pakistan. Our ill-directed celebration of Taliban’s hostile take-over has put us on the list of sympathizers of terrorism and the global community is indirectly holding us responsible for US and NATO forces’ failure in Afghanistan. Similarly, Pakistan has failed to convince the world that it is in fact the victim, has suffered huge financial losses, lost precious human lives, shared resources with the Afghans and accommodated millions of refuhees. The failure of policymakers to gauge consequences of Taliban takeover has negatively impacted Pakistan in many ways, including a new wave of terrorism and disruption of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
It is high time for us to reshape our foreign policy and focus on trust-building exercises with our friends and strategic partners. Pakistan’s foreign minister’s role appears to be a complete failure when it comes to conveying Pakistan’s narrative. In the last three years, we are experiencing deteriorating relations with the Middle East, Turkey, and China once considered to be Pakistan’s close friends. China is displeased with us on many grounds, the main being Prime Minster Khan himself. It is unfortunate that President Xi Jinping’s initial visit was scheduled in September 2014 had to be postposned due to the sit-in by Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) in Islamabad. This was considered a major blow to Pak-China relationship. It may be remembered that earlier, CPEC received fierce criticism from PTI, now in power.
Even after assuming power, PTI’s ministers continued to cast doubts on transparency and effectiveness of CPEC projects, Federal Minister Murad Saeed alleged corruption in the Multan-Sukkur Highway project and Razak Dawood stated CPEC projects were not well-negotiated, gave away a lot. Accordingly, the pace of investment and execution of projects witnessed a negative trajectory since PTI’s Government took office. Moreover, another reason for strained relations with China is insufficient security arrangements for Chinese workers.
The dividends of CPEC will help China and Pakistan strengthen their respective positions due to which some regional and trans-regional powers are not happy. Despite that, the security challenges associated with this project are increasing with Chinese workers being attacked several times in the past. However, the recent killing of Chinese workers deputed on Dasu Dam has widened the gulf in the relations of both countries. We are well-aware that militant activities in Pakistan are being financed by India using Afghanistan’s soil which situation will not change in the current scenario as India has invested in multi-billion-dollar projects in Afghanistan to strengthen its position and use the geographic position to its benefit against Pakistan. The current Afghan leadership has already signaled about maintaining good relations with India. Now Taliban are looking for recognition and would opt for the way that suits them. Moreover, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is active again although all four countries have different priorities. Where Japanese are more inclined towards free and open Indo-Pacific, Australia is hesitant to accept it as a formal collation. However, US and India are strategic partners with the common interests in multiple areas. India is aspiring to take a lead role in the region and has somehow managed to ally with the US. Though it seems like a passive collation that is not expected to reap desired results, as Australia and Japan’s interests are not aligned with US and India. Meanwhile, republican senators introduced a bill to impose sanctions on Taliban seeking a report from the Secretary of State about his assessment of Pakistan’s role in supporting Taliban from 2001-2020 and toppling of the government.
The way forward for Pakistan is to reconsider its foreign policy—hybrid system is not beneficial for Pakistan. Role of the current military leadership is also questionable. Priorities of the global world are changing. We cannot run a country of over 200 million people with a stick. Military leaders must realize that in our region, two major powers, China and Russia never deal with military leadership, nor do they extend favours. Similarly, US has no interest in financing us any further. To gain respect in the global world, we must develop a civilized culture and strive to strengthen democracy.
Pakistan must resolve its internal issues; political stability being key to economic stability and foreign policy. Parliament should behave in a way that endeavours to reconciling matters with all stakeholders which ultimately gives confidence to the incumbent government while implementing a balanced foreign policy. In the case of Afghanistan, we must monitor the movements of the global community, international financial institutions, and other international bodies. Any decision taken in haste just for the sake of photo sessions can cost us heavily much beyond our imagination.
Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).
Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in ‘White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance’. They have recently coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions.