The bitterness between Pakistan and Afghanistan can be traced back to the latter opposing the resolution for Pakistan’s UN membership in September 1947.
Afghanistan asserted that the region now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) should have been given the choice of independence in the referendum of July 1947 to join India or Pakistan. Since then, the successive Afghan governments have continued to pitch their ethnic identification with KP as a political weapon.
However, there was an expectation in Pakistan that once Taliban are in charge in Kabul, the situation would subside. Contrary to that, the terror incidents in Pakistan, with traceability to Afghanistan, have increased manifold since the new rulers took over Kabul in August 2021. This becomes more critical when Riko Diq’s revival has just started and CPEC is entering its consolidation phase.
Salient Historical Details
History tells us that long-term relations between any two nations only survive if they have strong economic ties. That is why since the ending of the World War II, we observe a mushrooming of global and regional economic alliances such as EU, ASEAN, GCC, Mercosur, African Union, ECO (earlier RCD), SCO, G-20, BRICS etc. Some of them have proven to be highly successful, for example, the intra trade of EU and ASEAN is 67 percent and 25 percent respectively. Even that of African Union is 12 percent, however, the same for SAARC, due to Indo-Pak friction, is only 5 percent.
Among its neighbours, Pakistan has a strong economic bond only with China. Our trade with Iran hovers barely at USD 600 million despite the shared border of 959 kilometres. It was the first country to recognize us and openly stood by us in the wars of 1965 and 1971. However, even when it went through rapid development at an annual rate of 9.8 percent from 1964 till 1976, Pakistan failed to take any advantage, despite the RCD agreement. Our annual growth during 1960-70 remained 6.7 percent and exports could not even touch USD 1 billion a year by 1970, while those of Israel stood at USD 1.3 billion (current level at USD 115 billion).
The capacity gaps of the current dispensation in this era of knowledge-based economies are so obvious. The most recent example is the hullabaloo we heard about the performance recognition certificates distributed in February by the earlier PM to the ministries, but nobody talked about the flaws in the selected targets.
In 1971, despite our close alignment with the West through SEATO and CENTO, we ended up losing half of our country. The basics of a robust self-sufficient economy, a well engaged public and a sustainable security system remained missing. The post-1971 challenges again required a lot of sagacity but we were soon facing a major insurgency in Balochistan and increased estrangement with Afghanistan. Within nine months of its formation in May 1971, the Balochistan government stood deposed in February 1972, with its leadership sent to jail and its allied government of NWFP resigning in protest. No wonder that another dictator, General Ziaul Haq, took over on July 5, 1977. The Saur revolution followed by the entry of Red Army in Afghanistan in December 1978 served as a godsend to him, who with the Western support galvanised an ‘Islamic Front’ for opposing the revolution, which provided him an alibi to perpetuate his rule.
Thus instead of attempting to build bridges, we stoked fires and embarked on the path of brinkmanship, and ended up with a culture of gun running, drug smuggling and sectarian violence and their natural off-springs i.e. poverty and obscurantism. Zia also got us sucked into the friction between revolutionary Iran and Saudi Arabia, which resulted in sectarian polarisation and strife. The nation continues to reel from the wounds inflicted on it then and associated later developments.
While we kept on hearing a lot about security challenges, energy security was never a priority, for example: the IP contract signed in 2012 for import of 1BCFD gas from Iran is yet to take off. We keep on hearing about it falling under the ambit of the US sanctions, however, we never attempted to engage the US directly or through its allies or utilize the window which became available after the post-nuclear (5+1) deal of July 2015, till Trump’s withdrawal in May 2018. Also, if the Chabahar port of Iran and its associated development by India and oil imports by eight countries could secure an exception from the sanctions, then we also could try.
Besides, the fast emerging security challenges on our Western front need to be taken seriously.
Opportunities In Energy Sector And Mining
Afghanistan has at least USD 1 to 3 trillion of mineral resources including iron ore, marble, copper, gold, lead, zinc and rare minerals. It is also a major source of gemstones and 45 percent of its exports in 2019 comprised rare metals, gems and jewelry. Additionally, it is called “the Saudi Arabia of lithium”, due to the huge reserves of the same. The deposits, along with similar reserves in KP and Balochistan, offer an excellent opportunity to develop integrated minerals’ processing value chains in the region to secure operational synergies.
It also harbours 2.1 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 16 TCF of natural gas.
Pakistan could offer help to Afghanistan to become energy self-sufficient. This would automatically give birth to other associated industries such as petrochemicals.
The initiative can only succeed if handled by professionals. Otherwise it would also meet the same fate as the USD 20 billion MOUs with Saudi Arabia signed in February 2019 and the subsequent visit of the Saudi delegation between September 4 and 6, 2019.
Major Cause Of The Current Status
The above plethora of opportunities if realized can transform the entire region. However, the said transformation needs professionals equipped with the required knowledge and versatile skills set to lead and manage it. Unfortunately, Pakistan is in the stranglehold of bureaucrats since inception, a tier majorly deficient in the above credentials.
In view of the same and the given complex challenges I am an ardent supporter of the introduction of a professional tier in the ministries at the top. The capacity gaps of the current dispensation in this era of knowledge-based economies are so obvious. The most recent example is the hullabaloo we heard about the performance recognition certificates distributed in February by the earlier PM to the ministries, but nobody talked about the flaws in the selected targets.
A quick review of the current performance targets of the Petroleum Division tells us that even “circular debt” and oil and gas reserves replacement are not there in the list, while South-North pipeline is still in the feasibility stage. The list mentions some ongoing performance evaluations but is silent about the yardstick.
Similarly, the LNG terminals are altogether missing, and while setting up of a high performance technical group is a target, we don’t see its signs yet. Even if an attempt is made to form the group, the professionals would avoid becoming a part of it — because it would entail reporting to bureaucrats and getting along with their suffocating capacity deficiencies.
Until this fundamental flaw in the governance structure is addressed, the country would continue to struggle. It’s not the processes or policies we are so fond of routinely tweaking with, rather we need professionalization at the top for ‘effective prioritization and execution’.
What Is To Be Done?
Comprehensive negotiations need to be held with Afghanistan in the above backdrop. The initiative can only succeed if handled by professionals. Otherwise it would also meet the same fate as the USD 20 billion MOUs with Saudi Arabia signed in February 2019 and the subsequent visit of the Saudi delegation between September 4 and 6, 2019.