Pakistan, October 14 2011 - America and Pakistan share apprehension regarding the future of Afghanistan, an epicenter for war for the last three decades.
America first entered Afghanistan to counter Soviet encroachment. Ten years ago, the United States launched a military effort in the country to inhibit al Qaeda actions, to end the draconian rule of the Taliban and to help the country establish free democratic institutions. Pakistan, on the other hand, worries about stability and establishing a friendly government in Kabul.
The US role in Afghanistan is now shifting from military action to nation building. The process of creating independent democratic institutions and strong civil society is a delicate and long-term process, requiring extensive commitment and effort. Prolonged military conflict decimated Afghanistan’s infrastructure as well as its fledgling democratic institutions. To create a strong, free democracy, Afghanistan will not only need to hold elections, but also to write a constitution, respect human rights, encourage civil society, create a civilian-controlled military and ensure stability during the process.
If America withdraws from Afghanistan before the country establishes a stable democratic government, it creates the opportunity for radical groups such as al Qaeda or the Taliban to return and dominate the government, undercutting US goals.
Pakistan, which shares a long border with Afghanistan, has a vested interest in the stability of Afghanistan. An unfriendly government in Kabul creates difficulties in terms of regional issues, border disputes, border control, easy access to Pakistan by Afghan radicals, trade problems and a host of other issues. Moreover, the growing insurgency in the provinces bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan costs Pakistan in both manpower and financial expenditures.
Pakistan and Afghanistan relations are tense, partially because Pakistan believes Afghanistan and India actively work against Islamabad. Pakistan points to the Afghanistan vote against its accession to the United Nations – the only country not to support its inclusion – as evidence of anti-Pakistan sentiment.
Afghanistan and the United States claim Pakistan has supported the Taliban and fueled the Afghan insurgency because it believes the Taliban represents stability. Currently, Pakistan provides refuge to more than three million Pashtun associated with the Taliban who fled Afghanistan after troops toppled the Taliban.
To ensure continuation of its goals in Afghanistan, the United States must include Pakistan in the process of nation-building in Afghanistan. Normalized relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are critical to long-term stability of Afghanistan.
If Pakistan continues to see itself outside the process in Afghanistan, it will have to defend its own interests in the region. This could include political and material support for those groups Pakistan believes are friendly and provide stability. If Pakistan returns the three million Pashtun refuges to a fragile Afghanistan, for example, it could tip momentum toward the return of a Taliban government, undercutting US objectives in the country.
If Pakistan sees a political vacuum in Afghanistan after NATO forces withdraw, it will be forced to fill that void to keep other regional powers from gaining power in Afghanistan and avoid further problems on its borders.
Very simply, an Afghanistan without the participation of Pakistan will remain fragile.
For true democracy in Afghanistan and stability in the region, Pakistan must be part of any nation building process in Afghanistan, and NATO forces should look to Islamabad for its help in the nation building process.
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