It would be greatly misinterpreting to elude that history is repeating itself in Afghanistan. The decade-long friend turned foe is back, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, while the Afghan Taliban are gaining hold in Kabul. To top this off, the northern neighbors, Russians are exerting their influence in the region. History does repeat itself but as farce, however, there is nothing comedic about the mounting pressures on Afghanistan.

Despite the pretense of repetition, the situation is ever evolving with changing dynamics and motivations. For Pakistan, this is a very volatile juncture with various opportunities and a golden chance to rethink foreign policy paradigms.

Regional actors such as China, Russia, and Iran are showing great interest in Afghanistan’s growing uncertainties, along with Trump’s lack of Afghan policy is a key driver in changing regional dynamics. This ever growing changing regional dynamics has put Pakistan in a very tight corner with certain ramifications on its elite echelons and the general masses. Furthermore, China in recent times has become more hands-on focusing entirely on regional connectivity through Eurasia. This would enact the economic spillover effects for Beijing and would prevent the spillover of Uighur militancy.

The ever-growing involvement of Russia was somewhat unexpected but yet may play a very crucial part in subduing or may even end the status quo. Moscow is trying to regain its lost glory by asserting influence in the Middle East and the Central Asian states, which would subsequently lead to diminishing US power and presence at its back door. Its other main objective is to curtail the Afghan drug trade and reduce the power of drug lords in the region. Moscow is also trying to curb the rise of militant Islamic groups, which is subsequently forming a nexus with IS to destabilize the region. A preposition just not acceptable for a rising giant from the realms of dark. In this context, it is pertinent to say that Moscow supports reconciliation between Afghan Taliban and Kabul, as it would lead to tranquility in the region. To further this narrative Moscow is playing a role of power broker, which is evident in the trilateral talks held in December and the recent six-nation talks.

The ever growing role played by Beijing and Moscow in the region is a source of light and would help us move beyond the sour legacy of US involvement in peace talks. The actors unifying and taking center stage is due to two-legged strategy. First, regional connectivity has become the new currency in the new world order. Second, to prevent IS establishing a nexus with Afghan Taliban, establishing a foothold in the region. These actors are also in favor of political reconciliation, except for India, whose malicious intent is certainly destabilizing the region as a whole. Further, the tentacles of regional connectivity could prove imperative in offsetting acrimony of other bilateral relationships. China can help build a bridge between Islamabad and Kabul, while Moscow could help in initiating a discussion between Islamabad and New Delhi.

In the present context, it can be said that Pakistan is placed in a comparatively better position to take advantage of the changing regional dynamics. Pakistan ties with Russia has been at an all-time high, contrasting from its past absurd blunders. This deft handling of Moscow from Islamabad has consummated into Russian investment in the North-South LNG pipeline, defense trade deals, and the ever growing security arrangements. On the northern side, Islamabad’s relationship with Beijing is on the verge of being cemented (literally) through the realms of CPEC.

On the other hand, in one way or the other Pakistan has failed to keep the same pace with evolving dynamics, and the decade-old narrative of using Afghanis as a source of strategic depth is badly haunting Islamabad. This western narrative is further emphasized through the testimony of Gen John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan. The General reiterated that Islamabad should eliminate the sanctuaries for militants, then only can the US act accordingly in Afghanistan. This US narrative is useful for hiding their inefficiency but Islamabad should use deft foreign policy to discourse this narrative.

Moscow and Beijing currently do view Islamabad as integral to a reconciliation process, there is an impending danger that if we do not rectify our foreign policy stance and become more adequate, changes can occur in the former stand regarding Islamabad, may lead to missed economic as well as political opportunities. The most pertinent example is of Moscow which seeks engagement with Afghan Taliban while viewing Haqqanis as a reconcilable. This further signifies the point that Islamabad needs deft, agile and more nuanced foreign policy in Afghanistan. If this may not be the case then Islamabad may risk losing out on opportunities created by the volatile changing regional dynamics.

This volatility is particularly true in Islamabad-Kabul relationship. The national unity government is in a flux, with the coming back of Hekmatyar, a sideline of Dostum, and the integration of Atta. However, this does not necessarily point out towards the North-South divide along ethnic basis, neither should it be exacerbated on those lines. In this political spectrum, Islamabad has to engage with caution and should not rely on the strategy bound by ethnic parameters. It suffices to say that this strategy is equivalent to playing with fire in the present context of regional dynamics.

Hence, Pakistan should look to improve its soft power in Afghanistan. The civilian government must play a greater role in defining policies in a coherent manner which could lead Pakistan to maximize its regional opportunities to its complete potential.


About Author

He is a graduate of School of Economics, Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad. His field of expertise is political and development economics. Currently, he is working as a content writer at Voice of Balochistan (VOB).

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