Pak-Afghan dialogue

Jul 26, 2017
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Dawn News, July 26, 2017
AS Lahore and Kabul try and recover from yet more attacks, policymakers in the region must contend with an undeniable reality: the interconnectedness of peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There may not be much reason to believe the attacks on Monday in Lahore and Kabul were directly connected or coordinated. But from a broader perspective, the attacks and the likely perpetrators have demonstrated that neither country can truly aspire to peace and stability without the sustained, meaningful assistance of the other. Militancy in Pakistan will not automatically disappear if the Afghan sanctuaries of Pakistan-centric militants are eliminated. Similarly, the Afghan Taliban’s alleged links to Pakistan are not the sole reason why the 16-year-old war shows no signs of ending. Yet, the mistrust that has plagued bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have prevented the two states from pursuing their respective strategic goals.
If ever there were a time for them to re-engage in direct dialogue, it is now. As media reports from the US indicate, the review by the Trump administration of the Afghan strategy has run into a road block: the White House itself. President Trump’s national security and defence advisers are urging him to commit to an open-ended military engagement in Afghanistan based on a small surge of US troops, but the president is reportedly baulking. Perhaps, as former president Barack Obama eventually realised he would have to do, Mr Trump, too, will acquiesce to the demands of his generals. However, the indications are that he is not invested in a major overseas military engagement — a signal that has important implications for this region. If Afghanistan and Pakistan do not recognise the urgent need for dialogue and bilateral breakthroughs now, the militancy situation could spiral further and make cooperation impossible. If Kabul feels fundamentally threatened by militant sanctuaries and vice versa, the space for bilateral cooperation will vanish and could be replaced by the search for alliances that could damage the other.
For Pakistan, there is another burden: recognising that a militarised strategy will not deliver decisive results in the long term. Fencing the border with Afghanistan, installing military check posts on the border, leading counterterrorism efforts internally, all these are steps necessary to long-term success but the main planks of counterterrorism and counter-extremism must be civilian. Problems of civilian capacity and will exist, and these must be addressed to fight terrorism and extremism. The alternative is what Pakistan has at the moment: a dramatic reduction from peak militant violence, but continuing sporadic attacks across the country. Whatever the institutional differences, surely the imperative of keeping the entire country safe ought to come first.
Dawn News, July 26, 2017

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