Saleem Qamar Butt
Regional Framework for Afghanistan
Afghanistan under Taliban control is a reality that has come around after 20 years long conflict, which saw US and allies existing Afghanistan without achieving almost all of their declared and undeclared aims and objectives. In a broader sense, it is a strategic loss of face for the USA and to cover up failures on multiple fronts, the big power and allies continue to follow the notion, ‘if I can’t win, my opponents must not win too’. Consequently, not only the Afghan Taliban interim government is struggling to find regional and international acceptance and economic viability, but the CASA region also stays prone to security and political upheavals. USA and allies seem determined to keep US $ 9.5 billion frozen in afghan banks; however, release of limited funds through USAID and World Bank/ IMF as humanitarian help is being unfolded carefully. Things are less likely to change in favour of Afghanistan as long as Taliban do not fulfill the demands with respect to all inclusive government, dissociation from all listed terrorists outfits, education reforms, human rights, women and children care and release of some prisoners.
Pakistan has been working strenuously to get Afghanistan all possible diplomatic and economic assistance through multiple diplomatic huddles including the OIC special summit in Pakistan. However, other than US $ 265 million pledged by KSA and US $ 30 Million by Pakistan, other OIC countries and the international community remain reluctant to commit anything for a host of reasons, which are generally well known. UNO has announced to seek US $ 5 billion to assist Afghanistan, which may see fruition through the UNHCR/ UNICEF programme as a long term measure. Pakistan still remains the loudest voice seeking the international community’s help to avoid human catastrophe in Afghanistan. Needless to say that within CASA region, it was hoped that China and Russia would take the lead role in mapping out a regional framework for political, economic and security cooperation to bring around peace and stability in war ravaged Afghanistan; nevertheless, so far both the intent and actions remain too sluggish to be optimistically felt.
In the north of Afghanistan, The Central Asian Republics’ security fragility and Russia’s predisposition to reassert in its former sphere of influence has been amply demonstrated by the current deployment of CSTO troops to quell mass public protests and allegedly foreign sponsored unrest in Kazakhstan. The Chinese offer for security assistance to Kazakhstan also came after more deliberations as China realised the threat to BRI, flow of energy and minerals and impact of unrest in CARs on the situation in Xinjiang.
As the whole region is badly affected by the turmoil in Afghanistan, a meaningful response has to be regional; and for that Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) (with China, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, India and Iran as full members and Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia with observer status, plus six dialogue partners i.e. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey) shines the brightest ray of hope for Afghanistan. The SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance. It is the world's largest regional organisation in geographic scope and population, covering three-fifths of the Eurasian continent, 40% of the world population, and more than 20% of global GDP. In my opinion, China needs to undertake the lead role under SCO mandate to come up with the much desired political, economic and security framework in Afghanistan, before it is too little too late. Nevertheless, much depends on the interim Afghan Taliban setup to create a conducive environment for that to happen.
Pakistan has endured a lot of diplomatic, security and economic coercion through IMF, World Bank and FATF, besides media trials for allegedly abetting Afghan Taliban. Pakistan had the natural optimism that after withdrawal of US and coalition forces from Afghanistan, Indian and other hostile proxies who remained busy in subversion and sabotage activities in Pakistan as a part of Hybrid war would cease; however, so far Taliban have not been able to adequately prevail upon proscribed terrorist organisation like TTP and other peace spoiling proxies operating from Afghanistan soil like BLA, BRA and BLP. This is as disappointing for Pakistan, as it is for US and allies due to non-committal response from Afghan Taliban interim setup with respect to demands regarding Al-Qaida, ISK, and DAISH etc. The ever exploitative Durand line chant needs to end now as it has been a settled Pak-Afghan border since 14th August 1947. The drug cartels, weapons sellers, smuggling mafia and human traffickers have run parallel economy to badly harm Pakistan’s economy for seven decades, besides unimaginable societal harm due to flux of millions of Afghan refugees with a mix of saboteurs and terrorists. The fencing of Pak-Afghan borders has been a herculean task immaculately accomplished by Pak Army by sacrificing a number of precious lives for security of the people living on both sides of the border. The fence is to act as a flood gate as well as to regulate movement and trade through a number of manned crossing places. The fence is there to stay, no matter what. Pakistan has quite generously kept its doors open to help people of Afghanistan; food, medicines and other essential supplies are kept intact, despite some undesirable incidents of shooting on Pakistan's troops and demolishing of the security fence on the Pak-Afghan International borders. Pakistan remains committed to settle it through diplomatic channels for greater good of regional peace while avoiding use of force. It is hoped that despite visible fissure in Taliban ranks and weak writ, with passage of time the Taliban interim government will adjust to meet regional and international demands as per their own choosing and interest. At the same time, Pakistan remains optimistic that Afghan interim set up will not allow spoilers of peace in Afghanistan to gag Pakistan for continued help to Afghan people and interim government.
12th January 2022