For long, Pakistan has been a victim of an orchestrated narrative about all that it has been engaged in doing. This has generated grievous misperceptions about the country. In reality, the malicious propaganda is tantamount to the pot calling the kettle black.
In addition to many other things, its role in Afghanistan has been under the scanner, thus generating multiple myths which are far removed from reality. It has been variously accused of sponsoring the Taliban, maintaining safe havens, facilitating cross-border movement of terrorists, supporting a military takeover of Afghanistan, not doing enough for the peace process and harbouring a wish to redirect militants to Kashmir. It is important to analyse this litany of fabrications to sift fact from fiction.
Pakistan has always faced a belligerent neighbour across its western border. So deep and acrimonious has been this hostility that it did not deter succeeding Afghan leaderships from collaborating with India to perpetrate terrorist operations inside Pakistan from the sanctuaries they always maintained on their side of the border. Alongside others, the TTP has been a favourite operative they have sponsored with lethal effect. Pakistan’s military had to fight a five-year long battle to eliminate the scourge from its soil, but not before paying a mammoth price: 70,000 dead, thousands maimed and $150 billion wasted. The predominant motive of these enemy-sponsored terrorist activities has been to instigate a civil war in Pakistan.
The reality of these myths is contrary to what has been communicated. Pakistan has looked after over three million Afghan refugees on its soil for more than four decades at great financial, social and cultural cost. Some of these refugees have been involved in grievous terrorist activities. In the same context, Pakistan has also hosted some of the Taliban families. The myths only deal with the latter, but not the refugees who, on numerous occasions, have been found involved in causing violence in the country.
In order to deter the flow of militants, Pakistan has been eager to regulate the border between the two neighbours, but Afghanistan has always shown reluctance to do so. Consequently, Pakistan was forced to fence the border. More than 90 percent of the work has been completed and the remaining will finish soon. Similarly, Pakistan has often asked Afghanistan to introduce biometrics to regulate the flow of people. While it still awaits action by Afghanistan, Pakistan has already completed the work on its side of the border.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was the first leader who said that there was no military solution to the Afghan problem. For almost fifteen years, he pleaded for the initiation of talks to bring the destructive war to an end. It was only last year that the US finally agreed to engage the Taliban. Pakistan facilitated these talks which resulted in the Doha agreement, paving the way for the US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. Despite requests by Pakistan that the withdrawal should be linked with substantive progress in the intra-Afghan dialogue, the US acted in haste – thus leaving a huge vacuum in its wake.
With the ANA refusing to fight, the Taliban moved in quickly to take over the country within days. The Kabul Airport, the only trouble spot, remains under the control of the Americans, overlooking the evacuation process. The deadline for the exit of troops is August 31 which will pave the way for total Taliban control over Afghanistan. Ironically, this is virtually going back to where we started from over twenty years ago: at the beginning of the war when Afghanistan had a Taliban government.
The allegation that Pakistan is not doing enough for the peace process is a gross perfidy. It is Pakistan which facilitated the US engagement with the Taliban and later helped initiate the intra-Afghan dialogue to pave the way for the advent of peace in a war-weary country. Unfortunately, the people the US had hoisted over Afghanistan, led by the inflexible Ghani, were only interested in continuing their loot spree. Even after the deal between the US and the Taliban was finalised back in February, 2020, they remained intransigent in their attitude and delayed the creation of an environment that would be conducive for forging peace. It is them and the US who should jointly bear the blame for the way things have finally played out in Afghanistan.
Accusing Pakistan of harbouring an ambition to redirect militants to Kashmir is a figment of imagination. It is the last desperate bid to divert attention from the failures of the coalition in Afghanistan and, instead, impute sinister motives to Pakistan.
Kashmir remains an outstanding dispute between Pakistan and India which should be resolved through the exercise of the right of self-determination by the Kashmiri people. This is contained in numerous UN resolutions passed on the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The annulment of articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution by the Modi junta has turned IIOJK into a prison. Pakistan remains firm in its resolve that the Kashmiri people should be given the right to choose their future, and will continue to extend all possible moral, political and diplomatic support to the besieged people. Allegation of recourse to terror remains a travesty of some moth-infested minds that remain blind to perpetration of gross human rights violations in IIOJK.
If the real objective is to decipher reasons for the debacle in Afghanistan, one need not look beyond the SIGAR papers. Afghanistan was plagued with a variety of maladies, ranging from the endemic corruption across the entire spectrum of governance structure to the constant shifting of goal posts of the mission. In addition, there was a flawed attempt to change the Afghan culture, an incompetent, ill-disciplined and ill-trained national army lacking motivation to fight, a perpetually terrified leadership fearing that the Americans would withdraw leaving them vulnerable to ouster, and a discontented people who were given a plethora of rosy promises, but no delivery.
Worst of all, President Ghani decided to run away with stacks of dollars when he should have stayed behind to lead the resistance. A deliberate effort has now been launched to scapegoat Pakistan for the disastrous failures of the coalition and their local partners.
Notwithstanding the unceasing cycle of venomous disinformation, Pakistan remains engaged in facilitating reconciliation between various stakeholders to ensure the induction of an inclusive government that would incorporate human rights, freedom of speech and interaction, and rights of women to study and work as abiding principles of the Afghan polity. What is needed is not to censure Pakistan with fictional assumptions carrying sinister motives, but extend support to help it meet the huge challenge it has undertaken for the cause of peace to return to a war-ravaged country.
The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute.