Stabilizing Afghanistan needs cooperation, not isolation of Pakistan

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The Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar has gone along predictable lines. India and Afghanistan collaborated in their attack on Pakistan as the alleged sponsor of terror in their countries. Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani was more unsparing in his attack, snubbing Pakistan’s offer of $500 million pledge for development projects in Afghanistan, saying Afghanistan 'needs aid to fight terrorism'. Similarly Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again used the opportunity to corner Pakistan without mentioning the country's name, saying there was need to act against terror and inaction will embolden terrorists and their masters.  He once again tried to keep the focus on the terrorism India faced from its neighbour and it did strike some chord with the other countries. India has already successfully isolated Pakistan in the region by cancelling the SAARC summit to be held in Islamabad in November by getting five other members to pull out. India has also begun a worldwide diplomatic effort to create more awareness about Pakistan’s support to terrorism and try and get the world to support its policy vis-a-vis its neighbour. And Modi tried to take this agenda forward at the Amritsar conference.

The statement issued at the end of the conference specifically mentioned the names of Haqqani group, Lashker-I-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad as the terror groups, responsible for violence in Afghanistan and the region. It also called upon all countries “to end to all forms of terrorism, as well as all support to it, including financing of terrorism”. The conference called for “concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, including dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism”. As one could infer from this, this was mainly directed at Pakistan and to pressurise the country into reigning in its militant outfits.    

In response, Pakistan’s foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz said it was “simplistic” to blame Pakistan for the terror in the region. “We need to have an objective and holistic view,” Aziz said. Overall, the drift of the conference was against Pakistan with India and Afghanistan acting in concert. So, in a sense, more than an occasion to discuss ways and means to stabilize Afghanistan, the conference became an opportunity to settle regional geo-political score, with Ghani and Modi acting as force multipliers for each other. The effort was to get other countries on board to pile up pressure on Pakistan, a move that is likely to backfire. 

Pakistan’s role in the stabilization of Afghanistan is critical, so are the relations between India and Pakistan. Terrorism emanating from Pakistan is certainly an issue. But it does emanate from Afghanistan too. Taliban controls wide swathes  of Afghanistan. The situation in the region is far more complex and it needs a nuanced handling to guide the region, especially Afghanistan towards peace and prosperity. And to do that, it would hardly do if one country is targeted as being the cause of all that is ill with the region. The region has to think both in terms of the symptoms and the causes underlying the conflict in Afghanistan and move towards a more comprehensive and holistic approach that includes the longstanding problems that have bedevilled the peace in Afghanistan  and the region as a whole.  . 

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