Addressing a gathering last week at the Vivekananda International Foundation in New Delhi, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared that his country would not join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, a huge collection of infrastructure works entailing a total investment of more than US$62 billion.
As CPEC passes through its embryonic phase, there are three things that don’t augur well for this huge infrastructure project.
The first problem is local, posed by separatist Baluchs, who look at this project with disdain, suggesting that CPEC actually stands for “China-Punjab Economic Corridor”. Baluch separatists organized a protest and freedom campaign in Geneva where, for the first time they installed “Free Baluchistan” posters near the United Nations headquarters in the Swiss city.
In reaction to the campaign, Pakistan summoned the Swiss ambassador in Islamabad twice to lodge its protest.
The second problem is regional, caused by territorial anomalies. The third is of an international nature. This international challenge surfaced when the United States dubbed the CPEC project controversial as it passes through disputed areas.
Ghani threatened that Afghanistan would not allow Pakistan’s access to Central Asia until Kabul was given transit access to India for trade via Pakistan’s Wagah border route. The problem for Afghanistan is not only its fight against epidemic terrorism, but also its own landlocked position, which creates trade barriers.
Initially, Ghani was Pakistan’s hope in Kabul. He seemed more reliable in the eyes of Islamabad than Hamid Karzai, his predecessor, whom the Pakistanis saw as unpredictable and temperamental.
And indeed, soon after entering the Arg, Afghanistan’s presidential palace, Ghani started dismantling Karzai’s policies on India and Pakistan.
He rolled back a security deal with India, sent Afghan troops to the Pakistan Military Academy for training, signed an information-sharing deal between Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence – two of Islamabad’s wishes not fulfilled by Karzai. He fired Rahmatullah Nabil, the Afghan spymaster, who used to lash out at Ghani’s friendlier posture on Pakistan.
But now Pakistan’s media paint Ghani as an Indian henchman, scolding him for changing his approach to relations with Islamabad.
This is perhaps why he threatened Pakistan right from the capital of India, Pakistan’s arch-enemy in the region, and a country whose role in Afghanistan has been protested by Pakistan. But the basis for Ghani’s stance is Afghan grievances over being cut off from a trading partner, India. They had nothing to do with India’s issues with Pakistan.
Something is seriously wrong with the policies of these three neighbors. Otherwise, why has Ashraf Ghani, who until very recently was fully reliant on Pakistan, become persona non grata in Islamabad?
To link trade relations with security looks like a silly idea, but the policymakers in Pakistan think that allowing Afghanistan access to India via the Wagah border crossing would be a challenge to Pakistan’s survival.
Something is seriously wrong with the policies of these three neighbors. Otherwise, why has Ghani, who until very recently was fully reliant on Pakistan, become persona non grata in Islamabad? Did Islamabad miss an opportunity by losing him?
What happened to distance him from Pakistan is best known to those sitting in the Arg and the Pakistani military’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. By going too far with his reliance on Pakistan, he created troubles for himself at home, and at times he had testy exchanges with Karzai, as Karzai tried to hold him back from getting in too deep with Pakistan.
Ghani, meanwhile, was oblivious to the fact there were many other stakeholders and factors influencing Afghan security. He looked poised to strengthen ties with Pakistan on the perception that Islamabad held the key to peace in Afghanistan.
In the meantime, Karzai’s house had become a more frequently visited place than Ghani’s presidential palace, which sounded alarms for Ghani. Gradually, he started treading a bit more cautiously while dealing with Pakistan. However, this doesn’t mean at all that he was influenced by Karzai, but rather by his own experience from visiting Pakistan many times. Hamid Karzai had officially visited Pakistan 22 times, yet the distrust and anger was so deep that Kabul and Islamabad couldn’t bury the hatchet.
Afghanistan, a landlocked country embroiled in fighting a gangrenous Taliban terrorism campaign, has always faced barriers to trade with India in particular, with Pakistan to a certain degree, and with the rest of the world in general. And perhaps this was the reason he spoke in an intimidating tone in New Delhi. Despite the existence of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade Agreement, Pakistan shuts its trade routes to Afghanistan to ensure that it keeps distant from a strong friendship with India.
This imbroglio, this feud, this distrust have their roots in the partition of British India, which gave birth to Pakistan, a country carved out of the Indian subcontinent and merged with some chunks of land lost to British India by Afghanistan.
In this way, it was destined that this newly born country would face regional tensions and perhaps existential threats. This situation could have been successfully staved off by opting for diplomatic ways to address the issues caused by the division of this region instead of resorting to military interventions and, eventually, opting for jihadism.
The situation could have been healed by improved bilateral trades, honest efforts to overcome the distrust, but nobody in the power corridors was interested in talking of brotherhood, sincerely struggling to bridge the gaps, and addressing the trust deficit.
Unlike India, Pakistan, as weak and frail as a baby, couldn’t resort to a military option in Kashmir, and the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, turned to Pashtun tribesmen, goading them into jihad in Kashmir when Pakistan’s military boss, General Douglas Gracey, refused to obey Jinnah’s order to dispatch troops to Kashmir.
Disappointed with Gracey’s blunt refusal, Jinnah visited Islamia College in Peshawar, where he appealed to the Wazir, Afridi, Mohmand Pashtun and other tribes to invade the Kashmir Valley. In the meantime the Durand Line crisis surfaced. Therefore, to the misfortune of the people of the region, friendly policies couldn’t be formed.
The initial 10 years of Afghan-Pakistani relations were quite tumultuous. In Kabul, Pakistan’s embassy was attacked, and in Peshawar, the Afghan consulate came under attack, followed by severing of diplomatic ties and closure of trade routes. Intrusive policies, feuds and revenge began consuming the governments in the region.
Such an environment has been promoted where talking of reason, brotherhood, and humanism has become a crime. For instance, while living in Kabul you cannot talk of friendship with Pakistan and while living in Peshawar and elsewhere in Pakistan you become the most despised man when you talk of brotherhood with India and Afghanistan.
As an individual you can shift your family from a village or a city to escape unfavorable conditions, but as a country you cannot migrate from a region. Therefore, attempts must be made to defeat your enemies – and the best way to do that is to make him a brother.
The authority lies in the hands of those who are sitting in the echelons of power in the three nations. It is up to them to decide whether to defeat their enemies by making them brothers or, alternatively, by dragging their citizens into the narrow alley of enmity, hatred and prejudice.