Hello peeps! Two good news! First, I am tutoring NZ Foreign Policy this semester. Loads of naive, impressionable second year brains to indoctrinate! Can’t wait! I will raise an army of bots! By the time it is found out what a major mistake the University made by appointing moi, the chips will already be implanted! The ramifications will be evident ten years from now when these kids will be diplomats or work in think tanks! And then, I can finally do a Darth Vader in class… ” I find your lack of faith…disturbing… ” Awesomeness! Secondly, my first ever scholarly journal piece, got accepted in Global Affairs Russia, and will be published in a few months! You’re looking at a future Nobel Laureate…right here, ladies and gents! Join the FB page of DWW, and I might get you a free autograph…to avoid the rush later!
Enough of moi. Now, today, I present Dylan Page, fellow IR scholar waiting for graduation, expert in Disaster Management, and blogger at From The Fourth Corner, who talks about Pakistan and Afghanistan for DWW. I thought it would be really interesting for the readers to share a perspective which is different and thought provoking, on arguably the most “dangerous” neighbourhood on Earth. So here you go!
Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda are never far from the headlines, even now the phrase “War on Terror” seems to have gone out of fashion. Doing the rounds a few days ago was an interviewwith an anonymous Taliban commander where he bags out Al Qaeda and talks about wanting to seek peaceful settlement with the Afghan government. This has raised hopes of a peaceful resolution to the conflict which is now America’s longest running war. While I will briefly say I think this is unlikely and the fact that this is one anonymous commander saying this makes me sceptical about how much it reflects any other Taliban leaders thought (or if he even exists…. but I won’t go there), my main thought on this whole situation is the lack of discussion in most media and other public forums about the long-term future of Pakistan once ISAF troops leave Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are inextricably linked, but the impact of the ironically named Operation Enduring Freedom on the stability of Pakistan’s state is too often brushed under the carpet. There seems to be a general acknowledgement of Pakistan’s involvement in the war but little discussion of the ramifications of that once the 2014 exit date rolls past. Partly this may be the result of the complexity of this relationship between Pakistan and the Afghan war. There is clearly a connection because of the homelands of the Pashtun people straddling the Afghan-Pakistani border, and this complicates matters considerably for both states. Pakistan has fought its own war the Taliban and other similar groups and has received vast amounts of aid money from the US to do so, while at the same time it has been accused of, and in some cases admitted to, supporting terror attacks. The operations of the ISAF in Afghanistan in all probability contributed to the lack of stability in Pakistan’s western regions by forcing Taliban fighters over the border, while the tensions between the US government and its Pakistani counterpart over the drone strikes, transport routes for military supplies, and the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound cannot have helped the Pakistani state appear stable and legitimate to many observers both within and outside it. This is worrying because, as I wrote in my first ever blog post, Pakistan’s nuclear capability makes any possibility of state failure there particularly scary.
There can be no doubt that there are many in Pakistan who represent moderate political positions but at the same time there are many who are extremists, and their number may well have risen as a result of the US’s involvement with their country. Events in Afghanistan will also drive what happens in Pakistan, as will its relations with India, China, Russia, the US and the world at large. However attempts at directing change from the outside may only fuel nationalistic and Islamic extremism among sectors of the population who feel as if their country is being used as a pawn by external forces. On the other hand, leaving Pakistan to address its own problems is a huge gamble. As a CSIS paper published recently on the subject of the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan states:
“Afghanistan, however, is only part of the story. A nuclear-armed Pakistan is both the real strategic center in the Afghanistan-Pakistan War, and its most dangerous wild card. Pakistan is slowly devolving towards the status of a failed state, and becoming progressively more unstable regardless of US aid and actions in Afghanistan. Any de facto “exit strategy” that suddenly cuts off US aid to Pakistan, or produces an even more serious level of confrontation between the US and Pakistan during the entire transition process will make this future almost inevitable.
It is easy to talk about regional solutions, as decades of previous efforts have shown. In practice, Pakistan’s internal problems are more likely to bloc any progress in Indian and Pakistani relations than push Pakistan towards a settlement.” (sic)
Pakistan is the elephant in the room in any discussion of ISAF/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, and it represents potentially the biggest future threat to regional and global stability. Nuclear weapons, a weak state, links to terror networks, and troubled relations with its nuclear-armed neighbour all make for worrying scenarios. However Pakistan is not there yet and it is possible that the withdrawal of the US and its allies from Afghanistan may actually help the Pakistani government strengthen its internal position and stabilise its state. This is clearly the most desirable result but the question remains of how to make it reality, and to this there is no obvious answer.