June 19, 2017 | Pakistan and Afghanistan: Relations, Diplomacy, and Security Challenges
A discussion featuring the Pakistan and Afghanistan ambassadors to the United States
INDUS-Mobilizing People’s Power, a Washington D.C. based think tank, hosted a dialogue on June 19, 2017, between the Ambassadors of Afghanistan and Pakistan to discuss common interests and challenges to their nations’ important bilateral relationship.
INDUS President Athar Javaid welcomed the guests and introduced INDUS. Mr. Shezad Habib, INDUS Special Advisor and sponsor of the event, welcomed the two ambassadors. Dr. Marvin Weinbaum, a member of the INDUS Academic Panel, introduced the ambassadors and moderated the session.
Pakistan Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhary expressed Pakistan’s view that its relationship with Afghanistan is very important, that peace and stability in Pakistan is impossible without peace and stability in Afghanistan, and that it is in Pakistan’s strong interest to see a prosperous, stable, sovereign, and independent Afghanistan. Amb. Chaudhary also noted that Afghanistan cannot blame Pakistan for all its problems, and encouraged Afghanistan to act against the terrorists that are attacking it from within.
Afghanistan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib stated that terrorism is a threat to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also noted the statement of his country’s president, that Pakistan has imposed an undeclared war on Afghanistan and that Afghanistan and other neighboring states blame Pakistan for exporting terrorism to their frontiers. Amb. Mohib warned of taking Pakistan to the United Nations for sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan. In response, Amb. Chaudhary cited a recent report from the U.S. Department of Defense that deemed Afghanistan as having the greatest concentration of militants and terrorist groups in the world, noting that such a volatile situation in Afghanistan is worrying for Pakistan.
Amb. Chaudhary then highlighted the need for dialogue, to find a solution to all the outstanding issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan, expressing his hope to restore the quadrilateral peace process and solve the problem in a cordial manner.
Amb. Mohib stated that Afghanistan does not know with which Pakistan it should engage – the one controlled by the military or the civilian government. He accused the Pakistan military of policies that use extremism as a foreign policy tool. Amb. Chaudhry said that such statements by the Afghan ambassador are clear violation of diplomatic norms and interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.
Amb. Chaudhary noted that Pakistan is overcoming security issues, eradicating the Afghan militants that crossed into Pakistan after the bombing of Tora Bora, and improving the national economy, but Pakistan’s recent gains and achievements are at risk if Afghanistan fails to increase its internal stability. He stated that the government in Kabul, far from enjoying full control over the entire country, must deal with a vacuum in governance and lack of administrative units at the district level. He said that terrorist groups, like ISIS, are exploiting this weakness.
Amb. Chaudhry said Pakistan is willing to play its role to bring peace in Afghanistan in any possible way, and, instead of blaming Pakistan, Afghanistan should address its weak governance, corruption, drug trade and economic stress. Rather, both states should show the friendly spirit on display recently in Astana between the Afghan President and Pakistan Prime Minister. There is a dire need for both countries to devise a strategy to coordinate efforts to defeat terrorism.
The candid dialogue concluded with questions from the audience and a note of positive cooperation between the ambassadors. The session’s full video is available on the INDUS website.
March 20, 2017 | Pakistan-China-Russia: An Emerging Bloc?
Relations among Pakistan, China, and Russia are growing. Regional developments, uncertain U.S. policy, and Afghanistan’s ongoing challenges increase the possibility of convergence among these three regional states.
On March 20, 2017, INDUS – Mobilizing People’s Power, in coordination with the Woodrow Wilson Center, organized an important discussion on geopolitics in the heart of Eurasia. Michael Kugelman, Asia Program Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia, moderated a discussion by regional experts on recent developments and what might be take place in the future.
Speaking first, Arif Rafiq, President, Vizier Consulting, LLC, explained the recent era of Pakistan-U.S. relations, citing the Raymond Davis and Salala incidents and the Osama Bin Laden operation as harmful to the relationship and producing a consensus within the civil-military leadership in Islamabad that Pakistan needed to diversify its foreign relations and reduce its dependence on the United States. Pakistan began looking for other partners.
With China’s encouragement, Islamabad extended an opening to Russia and other neighboring states like Iran. The Pakistan-Russia relationship is developing. Late last year, the two countries held their first joint military exercises in Pakistan, and Pakistan will receive four Russian-made Mi-35M attack helicopters later this year. Earlier, in 2014, Moscow ended its decades-old arms embargo on Islamabad, and by 2015, there were signs of a convergence in Russo-Pakistan views on Afghanistan along with rumors of Russian talks with the Taliban. In 2016, these were formally acknowledged. (Afghan officials alleged that Russia was supplying or even training the Afghan Taliban.) Most recently, Moscow hosted talks with Beijing and Islamabad on the future of Afghanistan. The United States did not participate.
The realignment of Pakistan’s international relationships, according to Rafiq, suggests the following: a) the U.S. is limited in its ability to generate behavioral change in Pakistan; b) the U.S. underestimated Pakistan’s ability to engage diplomatically; c) the Taliban are a reality and only reconciliation among all the Afghans can bring a durable peace to the country; and d) there is no solution to the conflict in Afghanistan without involving regional states.
Andrew Small, Senior Trans-Atlantic Fellow, Asia Program, The German Marshall Fund, stated that the China-Pakistan relationship has continued to grow while, at the same time, shifting from its historical focus on security issues to include a larger economic component, evidenced by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Driving China’s new approach is, firstly, its intensifying strategic competition with the United States. Pakistan, a country short of alliances, serves as a willing partner. Small noted that the Sino-Russian relationship, albeit at a lesser level, is also on a positive and friendly long-term trajectory. Second, China is also concerned about instability in Xinjiang, its northwestern province, and believes that development there, and regionally, will engender greater stability for itself and its neighbors. Beijing is also pursuing this through security cooperation with other actors in the region. Third, China sees the U.S.-India relationship as much more of a settled strategic fact and, relatedly, an opportunity arising from the weakened U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Fourth, risks to China’s economy have necessitated the push to find markets and investment opportunities abroad, and CPEC has ended up as a flagship project for both countries. As a result, China is helping Pakistan move closer to Russia and has helped facilitate their relationship. Beijing has also encouraged other states to support Pakistan and is in favor of a close Pakistan-U.S. relationship.
China is also expanding its security relationship with Russia, and with Russia’s blessing, China is helping Pakistan access Central Asian states. Regarding a Russian role in CPEC, Small said the critical element is not if the Russian role is formalized; what matters most is whether Russia is helping build ports and pipelines that support Pakistan’s energy needs.
Small maintained that South Asia is not an area of competition between the U.S. and China; it is an area of convergence. Both encourage support for Pakistan in various aspects: China backs the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the U.S. encourages Chinese investment in Pakistan. There is also convergence on Afghanistan. Both China and the U.S. would have a central role in peace building in Afghanistan. It is presented differently in public, however, and many people may not believe the U.S. supports CPEC, but this is an area where U.S. and Chinese intelligence agencies have worked with Pakistan in the 1980s. There is also convergence in the U.S. and China in promoting a peace process between Pakistan and India. Nor has the Pakistan-China-Russia relationship crossed the threshold of a significant trilateral grouping. However, if the U.S.-China relationship becomes more competitive, South Asia is a region where that might take place.
Andrew Kuchins, Senior Fellow, Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies, Georgetown University, argued that a lot has changed in regional relations over the last 25 years, illustrating how dynamic geopolitics and geo-economics are today in the Eurasian heartland.
Regarding the U.S.-Russian relationship, Kuchins pointed to a public interview with Zamir Kabulov, a high-ranking intelligence officer in the Russian government with significant experience in Afghanistan. Kabulov revealed in his interview that Russia is talking to the Taliban, which Kuchins said represented a big change in Russian rhetoric about Afghanistan. Kubulov stated to the interviewer that, “We expect Donald Trump to tailor a new American approach to Afghanistan” that considers Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and others. He also railed against U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, saying, “We know the reasons for the ongoing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Russia will not tolerate this.”
Kuchins believes that Russia wants to be in the Afghan political game, and the change in the Russia-Pakistan relationship advances that goal. The ties may also be driven by closer U.S.-Indian relations, but, according to Kuchins, Russian arms sales to Pakistan are not a direct result, as Russia sells arms frequently. Russia refused Indian requests that it cancel its joint military training with Pakistan. In return, according to Kuchins, Pakistan offered Russia use of Gwadar Port, but Russia was not interested because Balochistan is unstable and the port is underdeveloped. Kuchins believes Russia will be careful about its investments and trade with Pakistan as not to alienate India or China, the two largest purchasers of Russian arms over the last two decades.
As far as U.S. policy, Kuchins concluded that the Trump administration does not have an Afghanistan policy. Nor does it have a policy toward Russia.
The event concluded with questions from the audience and a moderated discussion. More information and a video recording are available here.