Pakistan: A strong diplomacy is the need of the hour

Pakistan: A strong diplomacy is the need of the hour

ISLAMABAD - Some headway has been made in the past few days through patient diplomacy in improving Pak-Afghan and Pak-US relations. During a meeting held in Kabul on March 17, 2018, between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua, the former extended an official invitation to Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to visit Afghanistan “to initiate state-to-state comprehensive dialogue” to resolve differences between the two sides.

At about the same time, in Washington D.C., US Vice President Mike Pence had a one-to-one meeting with Prime Minister Abbasi, who was on a private visit to see his ailing sister. There were detailed talks on Afghan peace process. Abbasi was reported as saying that meeting was “positive”. Abbasi also talked to US officials separately at a hotel where Pakistani diplomats were present.

Later, the White House stated that Pence had told Abbasi that “Pakistan must do more against the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups operating in their country.” Pence had added that “Pakistan could and should work closer with United States.”

A few days earlier, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua visited Washington for detailed talks. Moreover, US officials have also visited Islamabad. Alice Wells, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia stated these talks “could be beginning of a process with the Pakistan government.”

The reality is that, in the context of Afghanistan, both Pakistan and the US need each other. The US still has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan to bolster the Kabul regime.

The logistic supply route for these troops remains through Pakistan. Though more than 16 years have passed since 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan, the US is nowhere near a victory in the longest war in its history.

The Taliban have control over nearly half of Afghanistan and are carrying out raids against military and civil targets with impunity. The need for a political solution is growing by the day. The latest offer of President Ghani for a dialogue with the Taliban is a step in right direction. Pakistan has officially welcomed this offer and should do everything in its power to promote it.

Without making it public, Pakistan also needs to hold a dialogue with the Taliban leadership to persuade them to show flexibility in their stance towards a political solution. They cannot win a “total victory” anymore than the Americans and Kabul regime.

The non-Pakhtuns in Afghanistan (Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras) will not accept outright Taliban rule, nor would the international community endorse it. Over time, the Afghan Taliban have benefited from Pakistani hospitality and aid. They must now understand Pakistan’s security dilemmas and not exacerbate them.

They should realize that their hitherto intransigent stance towards a negotiated settlement merely prolongs the horrific bleeding of Afghan people, who have known nothing but warfare and destruction since the 1970s. A political compromise with the Taliban can comprise of a sharing of power at the centre, with virtual autonomy in provinces which the Taliban dominate.

As for US-Pakistan relations, the point in contention is Washington’s claim that the Haqqani network continues to operate from Pakistani sanctuaries. Pakistan denies it. This does not look like an irresolvable issue that cannot be tackled by patient diplomacy.

In case the US/Afghan claim is based on solid evidence, the US should share it with Pakistan, which should offer every possible assistance to eradicate such sanctuaries. In case the US is unable to produce any such concrete evidence, Pakistan should persuade Washington not to persist with such accusations. Towards this end, strong lobbying would be needed by Pakistani diplomacy with the Congress, different power centres in USA and the world media. Transparency on our part on the issue of sanctuaries will be more advantageous than our frequent official self-righteous assertions.

Another point that our chest-thumping super patriots need to understand is that Pakistan is at present beset with myriad problems. Internal political stability persists and economic indicators are alarming. Foreign exchange reserves are low, balance of payments is adverse, debts are mounting and international credit ratings are going down.

In foreign policy, we are becoming friendless. We have a tough neighbourhood: India is bellicose, Afghanistan is hostile, Iran is less than friendly and Central Asian countries are unenthusiastic. Even a traditional ally like UAE is showing pro-India leanings.

This is hardly the time to have a confrontational relationship with USA, the sole super power, with which we had a history of close political, economic and military ties. Balancing of relations is all very good but, at present, Russia simply cannot be a substitute for USA. Russia continues to have strong ties with India and is not an aid-giving country.

Commonsense suggests that improvement of relations with USA is in our national interest, not only for bilateral reasons but also due to its influence in world financial institutions like IMF and in FATF, which might put us in the Grey List of those involved in money laundering for terrorists. Diplomacy is the method through which states pursue their national interests in international arena.

It consists of formal and informal discussions aimed at resolving matters of common concern. Professional diplomats are trained for the job and have years of experience in dealing with other countries. They are in the best position to conduct diplomacy, which is a specialized profession like medicine and engineering.

Pakistan needs sophisticated and patient diplomacy at this time but Prime Minister Abbasi has shown poor judgment by naming a novice like Ali Jahangir Siddiqui as new Pakistan Ambassador to US.

By: Shahid M Amin— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.