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Afghanistan-India-Pakistan Trilateral Meeting in New Delhi 6th to 8th June, 2009

Speech delivered by Khalid Aziz at the conference, How cooperation between Afghanistan, India & Pakistan can help in the stabilization of the region?

I want to thank the DPG for giving me an opportunity to visit India once again. I also want to thank them for affording me the opportunity of having interaction with experts on the related subjects of trade, cooperation and security. I am coming from Peshawar where insecurity and the challenge to the state by militants and criminal gangs has paralyzed life; those who take peace and security for granted need to reflect and cherish it as a great blessing. We must work together to ensure peace of our region and between our countries.

In hindsight one finds that we were complacent when we as civil society did not object to the militarization of Fata. We Pakistanis suffered from a diffusion of responsibility. It means that when we saw acts of violence being committed by militants we thought that it was someone else’s problem; on many occasions many responsible persons said that it was U.S s problem. When Baithullah Masud, or Fazalullah started slaughtering soldiers and policemen we acted irresponsibly and tolerated this nonsense. Some of us believed that we could let the hounds of death mind their own business if we could negotiate deals with them on the grounds that we should give peace a chance! Yes, give peace a chance when both the parties are sane and sincere – not when one of the parties has its hands covered in blood!

What we see today in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is chaos brought by on by terrorists. How can this situation be tolerated? For instance there are doomsday naysayers who state that the ultimate victors will be the Takfiris because they are fighting a war of national liberation for the freedom of Afghanistan against US occupation. These people have forgotten the reign of terror and death ushered by the Taliban during their murderous rule from 1996 onwards or their role in harboring those who were responsible for 9/11.

Now let us look at how cooperation between the three countries  Afghanistan, India and Pakistan can bring peace to the region. It goes without saying that cooperation between the three nations is essential for stabilization of the region and confronting the Takfiris. SAARC has on different occasions indicated its intention to foster joint cooperation amongst the member states.

As instances I refer to the Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, of 1987; the recent, SAARC Ministerial Declaration on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Feb 2009; and lately the Prime Minister of Bangla Desh, Sheikh Hasina’s recommendation for the creation of a Task Force on Terrorism.

 However none of these good recommendations have worked or are likely to succeed unless the rivalry between India and Pakistan as well as tension on the Durand Line between Afghanistan and Pakistan comes to a closure. How can this unity of purpose against terrorism be achieved in the face of these disputes between the three countries? Let me briefly highlight the following issues that are standing in the path of cooperation against terrorism and instability;

Pakistan�s threat perception is generated by the fear of India. This fear is mired in history and does not need to be repeated but the end result is the abject foreclosing growth opportunities for the lives millions and instead it provides space to evil organizations in both countries to do more killings. The attack on Mumbai was the latest manifestation of a sick mind and cannot be justified by any standard.

Secondly, Pakistani security planners have grounds for suspecting anything India does in Afghanistan. For instance Michael Scheuer, the ex-CIA station chief in Pakistan, and anonymous author of the best seller Hubris, has criticized the US for thinking in Cold War terms when strategizing for war in Afghanistan. He feels that Pakistan, Afghanistan & India may be allies of the US but Pakistan has serious reservations on the role that India is allowed to play there.

Scheuer says that the operating assumption of the United States and NATO seems to be that all countries share the same strategic interest in ensuring that Afghanistan becomes a secular, democratic and pro-Western state. This assumption he feels is based on an error in thinking that two nations can have identical interests just because they are within the same alliance – this has led the West to wrongly believe that any and all nations can play a role in Afghanistan of their own choosing.

Scheuer goes on to say that, Unfortunately such a policy will ultimately help undo Western interests there. The best example of the destructiveness of the were all in this together policy is the role India is being allowed to play in Afghanistan; indeed, when Islamists again rule in Kabul, they should send New Delhi a hearty thank you note.

It may be noted that Pakistan’s national security strategy is India-centric. It focuses on three core requirements: 1) an ability to place most of its military on the Indo-Pakistani border; 2) the acquisition of a nuclear deterrent (accomplished in 1998); and 3) the maintenance of a quiet western border with Afghanistan to give Pakistan a kind of strategic depth so it would not face a two-front war.  Scheuer says that These requirements were met until September 11, 2001; the next day, only the nuclear deterrent remained.[1]

The takeover of a state in which to train and re-build a warring capability is al-Qaeda’s main aim in Pakistan & Afghanistan. This region has been selected because of obvious advantages for locating a focal point for establishment of training camps and terrorism in loosely administered regions like Fata and Pata. Geo-strategically also the region is centrally located. An OBL statement broad cast by Al Jazeera on 3rd June is relevant; in it OBL said that the objective of foreign forces in Afghanistan was to block the spread of Sharia in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The plight of 3 million residents who have been affected by the military operations in the Swat region was according to him a consequence of this policy. This is spin at its best!

OBL accused the United States, Israel and India of conspiring against Pakistan, and he claimed that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani are fighting against Islam instead of against Pakistan’s true enemies — namely, India. This statement plays on the fears of many Pakistanis, who view India as a greater strategic threat than militant Islamists fighting from within the state — the same argument the Pakistani military makes to Washington about its reluctance to redeploy troops from the eastern border to deal more effectively with the Takfiri threat in the West. By playing on this fear, bin Laden is trying to undermine the Pakistani government’s judgment and prevent greater military pressure from being applied against jihadists.[2]

Pakistan has been countering the Takfiris with vigour in Bajaur and Swat where more than 15,000 troops are deployed in counter terrorism operations. More than 3 million people from Swat have become refugees. To indicate the seriousness of the situation the military has announced to stay put in Swat for at least one year  remember that this operation was supposed to end in two-three weeks when it began about a month ago.

Pakistan is fighting a war for its survival; It needs to be supported. There are now evident signs that the public perception in Pakistan has shifted against the insurgents. Effectiveness of the Pakistani efforts will increase if there is peace between India & Pakistan. Without a movement on the Kashmir issue this is not likely to come about.

However there is scope for optimism because of the following signs of maturity:

  1. a) The rejection by the Indian electorate in the recent election of the paradigm of fear generated by some parties; they thought that they could play on the after effect of Mumbai fears. The resounding Congress victory is a vote for sanity and a signal for the initiation of a peace process with Pakistan.
  1. b) The decision by the Pakistan government and its military last month to launch serious counter terrorism operations in Malakand and Fata against the insurgents and their infrastructure as well as to arrest and eliminate the key commanders indicates both the immensity of the challenge that Pakistan faces and its commitment to end the hegemony of the militias. The Corp Commander’s Conference of 4th June held in Rawalpindi decided to continue with counter terrorism operations in Swat and elsewhere. They also advised the civil administration to act quickly and re-introduce the civilian structure to assist the IDPs to return to their homes. This is a positive development.
  1. c) In her address to Parliament the Indian President sent a very positive signal saying that India will work positively to ensure that outstanding issues with neighbors were resolved for the up lift of the region. This is likely to bring momentum to the stalled back door diplomacy that was begun between India and Pakistan some years ago and showed signs of a breakthrough.
  1. d) Recently the Afghan & Pakistani Presidents were joint visitors to the United States. Amongst other matters they signed a MoU to establish a transit trade corridor linking Central Asia’s energy and goods markets with those of South Asian countries.

Incidentally such trade in the region was first described in the epic of the region Mahabharata in 2nd Millennium BC. Central Asian horses and slaves were sold by the people of ROH, which corresponds roughly to the Pushtun areas of Southern Afghanistan and N.W Pakistan that includes Bajaur, Swat and Buner. Thus these regions were trading with each other even in the mists of history. These traders who were known as ASVAKA in Sanskrit had by 1850 established Rohilkand fiefdoms in India and included states like Kasur, Malir Kotla, Rohilkand, Aonla, Karnol, Bhopal & others. 

However let us not forget that it was mainly the lure of wealth of the Indo-Gangetic plain which pulled in the soldiers of fortune from the poverty ridden areas of Central Asia, Afghanistan and what are now known as NWFP and Fata. The appearance of Empire in India and stratification of borders made future incursions into the Indo-Gangetic plain impossible. However, this ecological drive from poverty stricken areas persists and without the ameliorative layering of trade the region is not likely to stabilize.

Trade creates livelihoods and brings peace as a bye product. After the closure of trade due to barriers and the introduction of new colonial routes between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan trade slumped and crippled the economy of the N.W Pakistan and Afghanistan. At the same time the population growth rate has been a high 3% p/annum in this region. In Waziristan unemployment in the age bracket of 15-25 years is more than 60%. The employment figures in Malakand which includes Swat and Bajaur are comparable.

I ask that can it be that with poor economic outcomes facing them in this deficit region, the poor are renewing their drive for a better future by moving towards the Indo-Gangetic plain again under a religious garb which has been cleverly organized by Osama’s religious rhetoric.

Whatever the interpretation one gives to the recent events in Pakistan, one thing is evident and it is that the arrow of militancy is moving towards the plains of Punjab and further eastwards. If Pakistan fights the militants it is in a sense preventing the spillover of this infection into India and in that sense is India’s strategic depth against the Takfiris! In a bizarre superficial sense Osama latest pronouncements are prescient!  Clearly the militants will do anything in their power to prevent any regional rapprochement between Pakistan and India.

This analysis has indicated the dynamics of relations between Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. But it is only a small part of the troublesome geo-political mosaic of this region. It contains other countries that are extremely important in case the region is to grow through regional trade under SAFTA or SAARC  countries like Iran, China, CARs, and Russia are equally important and need to be consulted. Each one has the spoiler’s ability to de-stabilize the region if its own interests are not addressed.

In conclusion I want to underline the need for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to solve our internal issues or the potential of peace based on trade will not occur. Similarly, any number of pious SAARC Conventions or Declarations will remain unimplemented unless the bedeviled issues between the three countries are solved peacefully.

[1] Michael Scheuer,  India’s Strategic Challenge in Pakistan’s Afghan Hinterland,   Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 30,  Jamestown Foundation, August 12, 2008

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