Clouds of mistrust are finally dissipating giving way to a ray of hope of mutual trust between Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Russia. For a sustained diplomatic relationship in the region, it is essential to mobilize its economic, political and social potential especially for the Central Asian states.
Undiplomatic and aggressive policies of the Trump administration are proving key to the upcoming change. Subsequent to the 9/11 events, the US invaded Afghanistan ousting the Taliban regime to bring the perpetrators of attacks on the US to task. Pakistan was forced to join the so called global war on terror, causing billions of dollars’ loss to its economy and the sacrifice of over 87,000 lives of its nationals, injuries apart. While the bulk of Pakistan’s armed forces including the Pakistan air force have remained deployed on its western borders to fight the war of the Americans for the last one-and-a-half decades, successive US administrations have always treated Pakistan with mistrust and harassed it to “Do More”. Of late, the US has cut $800 million of military aid and also withdrawn training facilities to the Pakistani armed forces. The United States is also influencing the world’s monetary organizations to deny any bailout package to Pakistan.
Russia which was once considered a staunch enemy during the Cold War era has gradually opened up to Pakistan. During the past few years there have been frequent exchanges of high level diplomatic and military visits. The Bajwa Doctrine envisages peaceful relationship with Pakistan’s neighbours, especially Afghanistan, Iran and Russia across the Central Asian Republics. While the Pakistan army is already an unwritten guarantor of the CPEC, further fortifying Pakistan-China relations, Pakistan is meeting approximately 70 percent of its defence needs from China. Russia has also gradually opened its defence market to Pakistan, training programs for Pakistan’s armed forces and joint exercises have changed the status of Russia from enemy to a friend and no more a threat to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, but rather a partner in the development of Gwadar Port.
Pakistan is in the process of integrating its Federally Administrative Tribal Areas into the mainstream abolishing the buffer zone kept by the British Raj to guard against a possible Russian invasion across the Durand Line. Pakistan has also been able to convey its sincerity in promoting peace, to the Afghan government, which has lost control over a large part of Afghanistan to the Taliban. With mutual agreement, Pakistan is also in the process of constructing a fence along the Afghan border which will also address the longstanding issue of the demarcation of the Pak-Afghan international border.
There is also a visible change in relationship between Iran and Pakistan. There is a growing trust level between the two countries. Pakistan has been able to convince Iran that the Taliban are the actual power to be reckoned with in Afghanistan and prolonged stay of extra-regional forces in Afghanistan is detrimental to regional peace and security. Growing US sanctions against Iran are also forcing it to look for diplomatic and economic friends within the region.
Prime Minster Imran Khan in his maiden speech to the nation impressed upon the need to have good bilateral relations with all our neighbours, including India. He also offered to begin a dialogue on the peaceful resolution of the long-outstanding Kashmir issue. During the recent visit of US Secretary of State to Pakistan, it was made clear that Pakistan has done more than its share on the war on terror and that there were no terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan and therefore “NO MORE” to “DO MORE”. While addressing Defence and Shuhada Day celebrations at army headquarters, the prime minister assured all ranks of the defence forces that Pakistan would no longer fight someone else’s war.
It is a good omen that all elements of national power, perhaps for the first time in the history of Pakistan, are on one page in every issue confronting the nation, be it foreign policy, anti-terrorist operations, water crises, corruption and governance. In this scenario, when China, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan are close to a consensus to solve the Afghan problem through dialogue with the Taliban, the US is left with little option but to resume talks with the Taliban__ a process which the US has already initiated, through contacts in Qatar.
It is hoped that the Afghan issue is resolved under the umbrella of the regional powers, and peace and prosperity comes back to the region and its full potential is utilized to make it truly a century of Asia.
The main spoke in the wheel of the actuation of this vision is India’s disruptive role. Acting as it is at the behest of the US to provide a counterfoil to China, its attempts at hegemony in the Indian subcontinent, and unremitting hostility towards Pakistan, is the primary cause of tension in the region.