“My dear friend,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a tweet addressed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 4. “Welcome to your second home. We are delighted to have you in Afghanistan.”
Modi responded with a tweet in Pashto. “Thank you Afghanistan,” he said. “My short journey today is reflective of the historic friendship between the two countries, friendship that is tied to the benefit of people of both countries.”
The occasion was the inauguration of the multi-million-dollar Salma Dam in western Afghanistan that will bring power and irrigation to vast tracts of the war-torn country. On December 25, Modi had elicited similar welcome when he formally inaugurated the new Parliament House in Kabul.
A friend of mine, who did various stints as a journalist, private entrepreneur and official functionary in Kabul between 1995 and 2015 before moving out of the country for higher studies in the United States, wrote to me an eye-opening message. He has good relationships in Pakistan and loves to be here, and some of the excerpts from his message are worth reading for all Pakistanis.
Influence can flow from political and economic cooperation too
“Iran, as many other regional and world actors, has had its proxy elements within Afghanistan who had been part of the bloody and notorious inter-factional fighting in the 1990s. As long as the patron, Iran, saw its interest in keeping friendly relations with Kabul to primarily please the United States, its agent(s) also had been playing a constructive role over the previous 10-15 years, as these elements were anyway given a greater portion of public values as a result of the Bonn Accord.
“Now that president Ghani government has been effectively trying to reestablish peace in the country and reach a political agreement with the armed groups, some of the elements, including and prominently the traditionally Iranian agents, do not see such potential development(s) in their interest… Most of them have been acting/posing as members of civil society and belonged to liberal, intellectual, pro-peace and anti-violence camps in the previous years, have been growingly propagating war and more violence instead of a political solution in the recent past.
“As Iran, for the sake of its own national interests, apparently does not contradict Kabul’s and also Washington’s political solution agenda, these internal elements, if I am observing correctly, have been growingly inclining towards another regional actor, Pakistan, for patronage.”
In his rather passionate letter, this Afghan friend delivers some warnings and identifies some challenges that currently stare Islamabad in the face.
Firstly, he advises Pakistan to guard against those opportunistic war-mongers who have thrived off the war economy and can switch sides when hand-outs dry up. Secondly, Iran, too, leant on proxies/non-state actors as long as it deemed it fit for its national interest but has now turned its back on all those “assets” because realpolitik dictates doing so. This also means Iran has moved on by way of necessary course correction in its national interest. Thirdly, Iran’s deal with India and Afghanistan on the Chabahar port reflects a new trilateral regional dynamism and represents an unprecedented opportunity for all three countries. Fourthly, patronage and influence can flow from positive political engagement and economic cooperation too. These can serve as real agents of peace and politico-economic cooperation and certainly not the gun-toting killers masquerading as Islamist or nationalist fighters.
If such forces are being hunted down in Pakistan for destroying peoples’ lives, how can their Afghan counterparts be condoned for doing so, using the Pakistani territory? This question in fact stands out as the key talking point in the Afghan national narrative today.
Pakistan indeed has its own limitations, with immense human and material suffering. It is also embattled on many fronts. But it also needs to introspect on issues that lead to, for instance, exclusion of Pakistan from the list of countries whose nationals can get visa upon arrival in Indonesia. India and the United States are essential elements of this discourse. If Hafiz Saeed freely roams Islamabad streets with armed guards and projects his prowess in the national and provincial capital, why shouldn’t his detractors question Islamabad’s repeated vows against terrorism?
National interests are static but international relations are dynamic. We need to realize that smoother international relations and cooperation are not possible without rectifying or addressing at least some of the reservations by outsiders.