Playing the Victim
By Imtiaz Gul
Friday Times , June 17, 2016
A Pakistan Army major and an Afghan soldier lost their lives during overnight clashes at the Torkham border that began late on May 12. At least 22 others were wounded on both sides, ten of them civilians. Pakistan had closed the border down days before the incident, and tensions had been rising since Islamabad said it would build a gate on the border crossing and fence the two kilometer area to stop Afghan nationals from entering Pakistan without a visa. Kabul had opposed the decision and tried to stop it.
The incoherence of Pakistan’s foreign policy was exposed in the statements that followed.
“Maj [Jawad] Changezi’s martyrdom will be avenged,” defence minister Khawaja Asif said, “even as our enemies seek to rob us of the peace gains of operation Zarb-e-Azb.”
“Pakistan’s sincere efforts for border management are being sabotaged from across the border,” sai Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister.
Meanwhile, foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told the Senate’s standing committees on foreign affairs and defence, according to reports, that the United States was “probably upset over the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project”.
The priorities of external players may change
Sartaj Aziz, adviser on foreign affairs, said: “The recent drone attack in which the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed has breached our sovereignty, caused a serious setback to the peace efforts and intensified hostilities in Afghanistan.”
Most of these statements not only belie the art of strategic communication, but also betray the poverty of considered thought on critical issues in a government that is virtually headless and whose sole focus appears to extricate its prime minister from the mess of the Panama Papers.
Pakistan’s current foreign policy focus – with regard to Afghanistan, India and the US – is on counterterrorism, border management, Afghan refugees and CPEC.
Washington continues to press for measures against Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and its congressmen have made roughly 40 percent of security assistance conditional to “demonstrable action” against the Haqqani network. The drone strike against Mullah Mansoor manifested that pressure.
With Afghanistan, the key issue is border management. Since June 2, every Afghan entering Pakistan requires a visa. The construction of a new gate at Torkham added to the already raging tempers and apparently fanned emotions on both sides. Islamabad defended the move saying it will help stop terrorists crossing over.
However well-meaning, the argument is primarily flawed and self-defeating. It assumes that terrorists transit through regular check points. Some may do so but the majority sneaks in and out through unguarded crossing points. Authorities in Kabul say much more important than check points is the liberty that is available to the Taliban and Haqqani network leaders in mainland Pakistan.
Most Afghans still rigidly insist on calling the border the Durand Line. For them, it is a disputed line subject to final settlement. This issue consumes a lot of time during official and unofficial bilateral dialogues, often with little headway.
Pakistan has thus far found little international support for its latest “border reinforcement” strategy, and has not been able to take such measures several hundred meters off the border, well within its own territory, either.
The third key issue is the problem of Afghan refugees. The current narrative on the need for repatriation centers on a direct nexus between refugees and terrorism. That is extremely counterproductive.
Over 60 percent of the Afghans living in Pakistan were born here. We can win them over by finding a naturalization mechanism. It can become a potentially huge source of goodwill. One good move would be a renewed biometrics-based census of all the refugee camps with the help of UNHCR, instead of going after or harassing the Afghans who are socio-economically well-integrated into our society.
In China, many were frowning to hear the Pakistani foreign secretary’s statement that the CPEC project had probably upset the US. “Is the US really upset? And If it is, do Pakistani officials really need to state this so publicly?” asked a perplexed Chinese friend, underscoring a bitter reality – Pakistani leaders and officials talk more than they think.
“Pakistan should have the confidence to stand on its own two feet,” he said. “Why does it have to present CPEC as a life jacket?”
Senator Saifullah Magsi made a similar statement during that briefing to the standing committee on foreign affairs. “We need to stop playing the victim and crying for help,” he said, “like a child asking China for assistance.”
The priorities of external players, even China, may change with circumstances, however important they might be. We need to spell out, set and stick to our own priorities, rather than pegging our survival to China. Is anyone listening?
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies