After 32 days of unilateral border closure for all kinds of communication with Kabul since March 19, Pakistan has opened the border crossings with Afghanistan on March 19.
In retrospect, a spate of terror attacks had rocked Pakistan in February this year. After the Qalander’s shrine suicide blast, Pak-Afghan border was sealed for “security reasons” as DG ISPR tweeted so. Would the shutting down of the border protect us from cross border attacks?
In addition to Torkham and Chaman border points, there are six other border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan. These are Arandu (Chitral), Gursal (Bajaur), Nawa Pass (Mohmand), Kharlachi (Kurram), Ghulam Khan (North Waziristan) and Angoor Adda (South Waziristan). Nevertheless, the 2,600 kilometre long Durand Line between the two neighbours is notoriously porous with scores of unfrequented routes used by smugglers and terrorists alike. Thus, many people derided Islamabad’s move to close down border as naïve: why would terrorists enter Pakistan with valid documents when they had alternative routes to choose. Why did Pakistan close down the border then?
India is the answer. Ajit Doval, Narendra Modi’s National Security Adviser (NSA), served as Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)’s undercover agent in Pakistan for seven years. A 1968-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Doval had worked as an intelligence officer for 33 years before he retired in January 2005 as the chief of intelligence bureau.
Prior to his appointment as an NSA by Modi in May 2014, Doval had delivered a talk in SASTRA University in Tamil Nadu India on February 21, 2014. He outlined his vision of how India should tackle Pakistan. He suggested the Indian government to “start working on the vulnerabilities of Pakistan. These vulnerabilities, Ajit counted, “can be economic,” that of “internal security,” and “political” and could include “defeating their [Pakistan’s] policies in Afghanistan making it difficult for them to manage internal political balance or internal security.” Doval threatened: “You do one more Mumbai [26/11], you lose Balochistan.”
For many in Pakistan, Doval’s speech was the Modi’s doctrine for Pakistan. Nearly every major terrorist activity in Pakistan is seen through the prism of Doval speech of “working on the vulnerabilities of Pakistan”. From Pakistan ruling elites’ viewpoint, India has been involved in sabotaging China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), supporting Baloch separatists and among others aiding Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in carrying out terrorist attacks in the country, a claim that is backed with the arrest of self-professed-RAW’s in-service spy Kulbhushan Yadav in Balochistan on March 3, 2016. Similarly, the latest resurgence of terror incidents across Pakistan was portrayed as a concerted attempt on the part of India to sabotage the return of international cricket in Pakistan.
In this whole scenario, Kabul was seen as an Indian proxy that worked as a conduit for Delhi’s ‘nefarious aims’ in Pakistan. The considered opinion in Pakistan is that Indian consulates in Afghanistan are involved in aiding and abetting terrorist activities in the country with Kabul’s connivance and consent. In a nutshell, Pak-Afghan border, a lifeline for the landlocked Afghanistan, was sealed to punish the recalcitrant state for its alleged facilitation of Indian involvement in Pakistan.
The whole exercise of pressurising Afghanistan not to do India’s bidding has cost Pakistan dearly. In addition to colossal financial losses incurred by the government and traders on scores of excise duties and businesses respectively, the incumbent government’s discriminatory policy towards Pashtun ethnicity, the second largest in Pakistan, was more worrisome. Probably, nothing weakens national bond more than being disowned by one’s own country.
The government’s crackdown on traders and workers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas, in Islamabad and Punjab especially, signaled that the whole Pashtun ethnicity was suspect in the February’s wave of militant activities on the mere ground that a few facilitators came from Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies. Reading between the lines, it is not difficult to discern that the government believed that a Pashtun, for the reason of ethnicity, was most likely to be a RAW agent on the instigation of Afghan National Directorate of Services (NDS).
Interacting with Pashtun workers in Lahore, the impression is that the authorities primarily targeted Afghan traders than their Pashtun counterparts. Will the government achieve the desired outcome?
In all probability, it is very unlikely that Kabul will succumb to Islamabad’s pressure until the right means are adopted. Except for the Taliban rule, history shows that Kabul had more in common with Delhi than Islamabad ever since 1947. Besides the Durand Line issue, it was more of our employment of allegedly inappropriate means than our single-minded obsession with a pro-Pakistan and anti-India regime at the court of Kabul that has historically forced Afghanistan to be closer to India than Pakistan. How to rectify?
Penalty hardly helps in changing states policies. In Iran’s case, whereas three layers of sanctions did not help the international community to stop Tehran from Uranium enrichment, the P5+1 and Iran deal, unfreezing assets and promising other incentives, persuaded Tehran to halt the making of nuclear devices.
The point is that Pakistan cannot afford an unfriendly neighbour on its western border when it has a sworn enemy on the east too. Afghanistan has not discovered any feasible alternative route to imports other than transporting them through Pakistan. The government needs to shift gears from a policy of one informed by penalty to incentives, to compete with India in Afghanistan.
Every time the border is closed, five times in 2016 as reported, there is a spike in anti-Pakistan and pro-India sentiments across the border. Since the Taliban ouster in 2001, India has spent more than $2 billion in Afghanistan and more recently committed $1 billion more in September 2016. In February 2016, Pakistan’s launching of $500 million worth of projects in health, education and infrastructure in Afghanistan and its fresh pledge of $500 million for economic development projects in October 2016 are steps forward. Similarly, the government should ensure an honourable repatriation of Afghans to Afghanistan.
On the security front, pushing the Taliban into negotiating with the Afghan government will definitely serve as a good omen for Islamabad’s positive image among the Afghans. Militant Taliban are fiascos!