Post-2014, our neighbouring country Afghanistan’s economic and political stability will have a great bearing on the strategic environment in Pakistan, which is already sheltering about three million Afghan refugees. Besides Afghanistan, Pakistan’s immediate concerns emanate from its economic and internal law and order situation.
Since 9/11, despite meagre foreign support, Pakistan has stood firmly with the international community in the struggle against terrorism. Pakistan has suffered colossal losses, both in men and material, estimated at about 50,000 casualties and a loss of over US$102.5 billion (both in direct and indirect costs), in the anti-terror war during the last 13 years. Moreover, issues of sovereignty and collateral damage arising out of drone attacks have, at times, made it difficult to carry the public opinion along.
Security challenges, both in the traditional as well as non-traditional domains, need a concerted and comprehensive response in the form of policy reviews and structural reforms. In this regard, the government has already announced a National Security Policy.
The year 2014 might become epochal because all regional countries are scheduled to complete electoral process during this year. Due to long-term availability of political counterparts across the region, political as well as economic planning horizons will widen, and the opportunity to engage them constructively for resolving irritants and settling disputes is likely to improve greatly. This could facilitate formulation of a joint strategy amongst the regional countries for tackling common issues, including trans-border security, drug trafficking, organised crime, etc. Moreover, such a scenario could provide the regional players an opportunity to focus on improving connectivity, trade and commerce, and also to collectively address the challenges of climate change and disaster management.
Against this backdrop, Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in collaboration with Germany’s Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) organised a 2-day International Conference on “Pakistan’s Strategic Environment: Post 2014,” in Islamabad, on May 28 and May 29, 2014.
In his inaugural speech at this conference, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs, Syed Tariq Fatemi, elaborated Pakistan’s policy by stating that Pakistan believes in cooperation and not confrontation with the neighbouring countries in the region, and that this is the only way to ensure peace. He said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to India is a testimony to this policy.
Fatemi said: “China is our time-tested friend and Pakistan gives due importance to it. We have economic relations with the Gulf countries and the European Union, and we would further strengthen them in future… Pakistan government wants friendly relations with India and has adopted a policy of regional cooperation.” About Pakistan-US relation, he said, there have always been ups and downs between both the countries, but they cannot ignore each other. He categorically stated that Pakistan will not interfere in the formation of the government in Afghanistan rather it will facilitate Afghanistan in post-2014 scenario.
Former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General (R) Ehsan ul Haq, former Federal Minister and Ambassador to the USA Sherry Rehman, former Ambassador to the USA and UK Dr Maleeha Lodhi and Dean Punjab University Dr Muhammad Hafeez addressed the moot, while foreign scholars and prominent national scholars, professionals and intellectuals presented their papers.
Professor Dr Gulshan Sachdeva of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University highlighted the strategic importance of Afghanistan for India, particularly in the context of difficult India-Pakistan relations. He said India hoped to achieve certain objectives in Afghanistan, including political (influence in Kabul); economic (preparing a strategy for South-Central Asia economic linkages); diplomatic (to be considered an as important regional/global player), strategic (a new outlet to Afghanistan and Central Asia), humanitarian (providing relief to vulnerable Afghan citizens), and Afghanistan’s long-term capacity building. Many of these objectives have already been achieved significantly. India does not have any exit policy in Afghanistan. On the contrary, there are indications that India may be involved much more than hitherto, he added.
IPRI’s Consultant Air Commodore (Retd) Khalid Iqbal observed that challenges that Pakistan is facing today are enormous, yet there is a national resolve to turn most of these into opportunities by creating a peaceful neighbourhood, a robust economy and total destruction of extremist and terrorist networks. In his quest for peaceful neighbourhood, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has completed his first round of visits to immediate neighbouring states. As the economy picks-up, Pakistan shall be able to devote more resources towards mitigation of non-traditional challenges and improving the quality of life of its citizens. In the context of traditional challenges, the way forward is peaceful resolution of disputes, and Pakistan’s proposal of Strategic Restraint Regime offers a sustainable roadmap to mitigate traditional challenges.
In his paper, Didier Chudet of the French Institute for Perspective and Security in Europe cautioned that if there was unrest in Afghanistan, it would trickle down to all neighbouring countries. He stated that as the most important neighbours of Afghanistan, an “entente cordiale” between Pakistan and Iran, and later with Kabul, is essential.
Dr Bruce Koepke of the International Peace Research Institute, Stockholm said that post-2014 unemployment will remain a serious challenge for Afghanistan, a country which was dependent upon foreign aid for 12 years, but has to focus on economic stability now. “Development work will further shrink, due to which drug trade will increase;” while almost 400,000 jobs would be needed for the Afghan youth every year.
Yury Krupnov, Chairman Supervisory Board Institute for Demography, Migration and Regional Development, Moscow (Russia), stated that constituent states of South Asia should create an environment that facilitates economic and trade relations and cooperation in economic development and social progress through SAARC, as repeatedly called by Pakistan. These steps can open great avenues towards enhancing Strategic Investment Projects in the Greater Central Asia, Afghanistan and South Asia.
Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhry, Bangladesh’s former foreign minister, called for greater intra-regional trade and cooperation within South Asia. India would do well to provide Pakistan access to Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, and to the latter for trade among themselves, while Pakistan could be a conduit to India to establish links with Central Asia through Afghanistan.
Hu Shisheng of the Chinese Institutes of Contemporary International Relations said that post-2014, China will make efforts, in collaboration with regional countries, to make the transition in Afghanistan a success and hence it would continue to making contributions to the regional peace, stability and development, in particular playing an active role in the Afghan reconstruction.
Chairman Department of International Relations, Peshawar University, Dr Adnan Sarwar, said that Pakistan wants peace in Afghanistan as any future unrest would once again trigger the influx of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
According to Shabir Ahmad Khan of the Area Study Centre Peshawar University, post-2014 regional scenario seems to be providing more space for the Sino-Russian dominance of the Asian pipeline systems and energy distribution. Pak-Russian interests, in the post-withdrawal scenario, seem to be converging in Afghanistan. The convergence of geo-political and geo-economic interests of China and Pakistan and China’s financial support to develop connectivity infrastructure of Pakistan, turning the later into a regional energy and trade corridor, will benefit the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia along with Pakistan and China.
Dr Nazir Hussain of the Quaid-i-Azam University was of the view that the Iranian seaport of Chahbahar has greater prospects of becoming a regional trade link following thaw in Iran-US relations and signing of a trilateral agreement by Iran, India and Afghanistan to develop Chahbahar into a regional hub connecting South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. Despite operationalisation of Gawadar seaport, Chahbahar would pose a serious challenge to Pakistan’s long-term ambition of becoming a trade and energy corridor.
No doubt, regional peace and economic cooperation is in the interest of all regional countries, given the fact that both Afghanistan and Pakistan can serve as a trade and energy corridor between South and Central Asia. But, currently both Afghanistan and Pakistan are confronted with serious economic and security challenges. However, it augurs well that the leadership in Pakistan is interested in tackling these problems, on an urgent basis, in an increased and transparent cooperation with all countries in the region, including Afghanistan and India.