Afghanistan and Pakistan’s national security - Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan | Eurasia Diary -

27 July, Tuesday

Afghanistan and Pakistan’s national security - Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

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Capital of Pakistan has become hotspot because of widening “vacuum” and “deteriorating” law and order situation in Afghanistan. 
There were flurry of predictions that the Taliban would move quickly to overrun government outposts, seize regional cities, and ignite a broader civil war or march on Kabul to topple the government and they lived up to this expectation.  
Taliban has now started their “victory march” toward Kabul. Violence and sabotage activities in numerous parts of Afghanistan have immensely increased which showed “inability” of Afghan government to tackle the “onslaught” of Taliban. 
Constant geographical “marginalization” of Afghan government has forced it to use “dirty tactics” for “face-saving”. Afghan National Security advisor crossed all limits of diplomatic norms, engagements and decency and termed Pakistan a brothel house which has now worsened diplomatic channels between Pakistan and Afghanistan.          
Moreover, alleged visit of CIA Director William Burns to Pakistan has opened a “hot debate” in local as well as international media. The New York Times (June 6, 2021) claimed that Mr Burns had travelled to Pakistan for meetings with Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI Director General Lt Gen Faiz Hamid to explore the possibility of counterterrorism cooperation between the two sides. 
The Central Intelligence Agency is said to be looking for bases around Afghanistan from where it could gather intelligence on Afghanistan and execute counterterrorism strikes after the completion of troop withdrawal from there.
In this context, the government of Pakistan clearly conveyed its decision not to host the spy agency’s drone bases on its territory.
However, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, responded that US sought a drone base in Pakistan and had constructive discussions in the military, intelligence and diplomatic channels with Pakistan about the future of America’s capabilities to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a base from which Al Qaeda rises or any other terrorist group can attack the United States. Moreover, most recent visit of the US deputy head of mission to Gwadar indicated suspicious scheme of arrangements.  Even South China Morning Post (June 1, 2021) upheld the possibility of US bases in Pakistan after its withdrawal from Afghanistan. 
Taliban allegedly supported by Russia, China and even Iran have already strictly warned all the regional countries about any kind of military “facilitation” with the CIA including drone bases. Russia has already snubbed Central Asian Countries to stay away from the US fatal trap. Rise in violence, sabotage activities and acts of terrorism against armed forces of Pakistan in Balochistan and FATA have verified start of new bloodily spillover repercussions of Afghanistan on Pakistan.     
Conversely, diplomatic circle confirmed that Russia and China have already conveyed their displeasure, dissatisfaction and disbelief to Islamabad about allegedly ongoing serious engagements on US bases. 
In the near past, discussions between Pakistan and the US on issue of bases have taken place at multiple levels between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, NSA Moeed Yusuf and his American counterpart Jake Sullivan, Gen Bajwa and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, COAS/DG ISI and CIA chief, and the army chief and the US charge d’affaires.
Officials said the CIA chief wanted to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, but was plainly told that only counterpart meeting between heads of government of the two countries was possible.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the US that it would not give military bases because the country has to look after its own interests.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has already warned of resulting turmoil a day after Washington said almost half of U.S. troops and equipment had been sent home or destroyed since the drawdown formally began on May 1. He termed political settlement and stability in Afghanistan after Americans withdrawal. The prime minister also said Pakistan fears terrorism will rise without a political settlement.
Islamabad maintains that anti-state militants have taken refuge in Afghan territory after fleeing Pakistani security operations and continue to plot cross-border terrorist attacks from there.
For its part, the Kabul government accuses Pakistan of covertly supporting the Taliban and allowing insurgent leaders to direct violence inside Afghanistan, allegations Pakistani officials deny.
Islamabad does not have any favour in Afghanistan because a Taliban total victory in Afghanistan may create strategic imbalance in the region and accordingly changed country’s ties with USA and China.  Pakistan’s security establishment supports “Afghan Own & Afghan Led” policy. 
According to the latest situation report the Kabul government still controls 50 per cent of the country while Taliban holds sway over 30 per cent and the contest between the two for the rest of the 20 per cent is getting fiercer with government troops clearly on the run.
Pakistan has genuine fears that if warring parties in Afghanistan fail to reach a peace arrangement, anarchy will erupt in the turmoil-hit neighbour after the withdrawal of the United States and allied troops, threatening regional stability.
According to a United Nations report (June 2021) a significant part of the Al-Qaeda leadership resides in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region, including the group's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is probably alive.
The Afghan government has longstanding reservations that Pakistan may be using the Afghan Taliban as a proxy but Islamabad has its own list of grievances such as a nexus between Afghan intelligence agency and anti-Pakistan terrorist groups operating out of Afghanistan.
Interestingly, the Turkish government has agreed to take over responsibility for Kabul’s international airport in a $130 million deal with NATO. The deal is likely to be widely welcomed after weeks of uncertainty over the Turkish government’s continued commitment to defending Hamid Karzai International Airport. It will provide assurances to the international community and it is a better solution because the Taliban have never attacked the Turks.
President Joe Biden announcement of US withdraw America’s 2,500 combat troops from Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2021 started divergent and conflicting strategic orientations. Supporters termed it closing the book on America’s longest war. Meanwhile, critics denounced the decision as reckless and dangerous. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton warned it could have huge consequences including a surge in global terrorism and a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.  
Being prominent regional geopolitical expert I suggest that policy makers should immediately initiate series of strategic meetings/dialogues with all the important countries, Russia, China, Turkey, Iran and Uzbekistan and follows a holistic and participatory regional scheme of engagement otherwise, Pakistan would be in awakened position. 
Trump card is in favour of Pakistan because the government and establishment seem to be on same page. Any misappropriation or out of the box arrangement or strategic concessional agreement would create strategic imbalance in the region which would ultimately harm country’s economic prosperity in terms of CPEC, energy cooperation (Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on North-South Gas Pipeline Project, Russian) and regional connectivity. Moreover, spoilers have their own agenda which needs to be minimized through collective political consultations with the country, region and beyond. USA unfortunately desires instability and deterioration of law & order in Afghanistan for its own military presence justification in the region. Thus complex regional chess board of power politics should be tackled through wisdom and maturity and not by playing for press gallery.    

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