By Sher Bano*
In late February finally a peace agreement was signed between United States and the Taliban that sets a timetable for the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. The negotiations that led to the deal were long and apprehensive due to various turn of events. Pakistan played the most crucial role in the Afghan peace process, which includes getting the Taliban and some of its senior figures to the negotiating table. Finally Pakistan’s longstanding calls for negotiations with Taliban have been vindicated. For years instability and conflict in Afghanistan had led to more cross border terrorism, more refugee flows and increase in drug trade which has been huge trouble for Pakistan. Hence Peace and stability in Afghanistan is essential for the national security of Pakistan because both the states share borders.
Due to its strategic location and being the main stakeholder, Pakistan had an important role to play in this peace agreement. The first priority of Pakistan was peaceful Afghanistan because peace and stability in Pakistan is profoundly connected to peaceful Afghanistan. The Durand line is a 2640km border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, this lengthy border has posed major difficulties for Pakistan mostly pertaining to controlling the infiltration of terrorists. If an understanding is reached between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government, it will restrain the growth of terrorism not only within Afghanistan but will also keep it from spreading towards Pakistan. This can ensure better security for Pakistan’s north western border along Afghanistan. Therefore a peaceful Afghanistan is in the best interest of Pakistan.
No other regional state has suffered as much from persistent Afghan warfare in the last three decades as Pakistan. The human and the material cost of the current war has been exceptionally grave. Therefore Pakistani policy makers have been constantly trying to secure a power sharing deal between the Taliban and other Afghan groups. Moreover Pakistani interests are best served by a relatively stable government in Kabul which is not hostile towards Pakistan. A friendly government in Kabul secures Pakistan’s western border from encroachment by India or Indian proxies and serves the dual function of forcing a de facto recognition of the Durand Line (the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan) by the central Afghan government, something which successive Afghan governments have refused to do and which have aroused fears in Pakistan tracing back to the country’s birth.
Apart from that an inclusive peace settlement in Afghanistan will pave the way for the repatriation of nearly 1.9 million registered and one million undocumented Afghan refugees from Pakistan. The presence of these refugees has incurred grave economic, security and social cost for the country in the last three decades. Approximately 60% of the Afghan refugees live in the rural areas and 40% live in the refugee camps. Moreover the progress in the Afghan peace process will also allow its army and paramilitary greater ability to fight domestic insurgency and terrorism.
It is also important for Pakistan to counter India’s influence in Afghanistan. Its influence in the country has grown over the years in the garb of providing economic and developmental aid. Its ultimate purpose has been to increase its military influence so that it can play bigger political role in Afghanistan. For years Indian trained militants have been causing unrest in Pakistan. Hence all these factors pose a direct threat to the security of Pakistan and also its interest in Afghanistan. This peace agreement will help decrease India’s influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan hopes to regain the lost trust by working for the interest of both the states and ultimately to persuade Afghanistan to sideline India.
Terrorism has been the biggest threat to the national security of Pakistan and instability in Afghanistan is the huge reason behind it. Even though Pakistan has been actively fighting against the terrorism on the front-line, it is also the most affected one. Afghan war in 1970’s lead to a number of challenges for Pakistan such as religious extremism, influx of Afghan refugees etc. that resulted in causing many security problems for Pakistan. Hence through its ongoing efforts in Afghan peace process, Pakistan will be able to find prospects of peace on its own soil as well.
In order to ensure its national security it is necessary for Pakistan to have a more stable and secure neighbor. Only then Pakistan would be able to tackle its internal and external security challenges. Even in future Pakistan aims to play a constructive role in the Afghan peace process as many of our aspirations for security and prosperity depends upon peaceful Afghanistan with stable government.
*The writer is working as Research Affiliate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think- tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan
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