Time to be a genuine friend

Eight South Asian nations signed the Addu Declaration at the end of the 17th SAARC Summit held in the Maldives. The declaration reaffirmed SAARC’s commitment to peace, confidence building, liberty, dignity, democracy, mutual respect, good governance and protection of human rights. It is hoped that all eight member countries of SAARC commit themselves to the Addu Declaration in letter and spirit. The discussions on the sidelines of the summit between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Gilani hogged the limelight. There were some very positive outcomes of that meeting. “I am optimistic that India-Pakistan relations are subject to accidents and therefore we both recognise that if there is another incident like the Mumbai terror attack, that would be a big setback to the process of normalisation and that is fully understood by PM Gilani,” said Prime Minister Singh. He also said that after a long time he feels that the Pakistani armed forces are on board, which indicates that the peace process might be moving in the right direction. Right now the Pakistan army is busy on the western border and cannot afford tensions on the east. It is hoped that Pakistan’s military establishment is finally able to see some light and allow the peace process to move forward instead of supporting anti-India policies in knee-jerk fashion.

Apart from meeting his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Gilani had a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. According to a Pakistani member of the delegation, Mr Karzai adopted a “rather aggressive posture” during the meeting and “bombarded us with a number of demands laced with accusations”. “Frankly speaking, Prime Minister Gilani was taken aback because he had expected a friendly gesture from the Afghan president,” said the delegate. Why Mr Karzai’s curt manner would be any surprise to Mr Gilani is in itself quite surprising. For the last four decades, Pakistan’s military establishment has done everything in its power to wreak havoc in Afghanistan in order to pursue its notorious ‘strategic depth’ policy.

In the early 1970s, Pakistan reacted to the anticipated support of Pashtun and Baloch nationalists by Sardar Daud and in a counterstroke it supported the creation of the mujahideen. From the communist coup to Afghanistan’s internal crisis in the 70s to the Soviet invasion, Pakistan has been at the forefront of supporting terrorist elements in Afghanistan. The west led by the US and Saudi Arabia also jumped in in support of the mujahideen after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The unintended consequences of releasing the fanatical jihadi genie from the bottle resulted in 9/11. The west may have suffered the consequences of its folly, but it would be an even graver mistake if Pakistan continues to do the same, i.e. seek favourable foreign policy and strategic outcomes through reliance on religious extremists and fanatics. In order to retain its proxy war machine for its future agenda, especially post-2014 withdrawal of foreign forces, the Pakistani military establishment is still harbouring and supporting the Afghan Taliban. Given this fact, it is perfectly understandable why Karzai is upset with us. It would be for the good of Afghanistan, Pakistan itself, as well as the region if this jihad export policy were abandoned before its blowback becomes too hot to handle. Afghanistan is in need of much help. India has intelligently proved a better friend to the Afghan people than Pakistan by helping rebuild its infrastructure. We lost an opportunity in 2001 to make a genuine friend of the Afghan people. Let’s not lose another opportunity. South Asia needs peace and stability. Pakistan can play a key role in achieving it.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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