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More engagement for regional peace

September 13, 2017

PRIME MINISTER Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif have reiterated the need for what ought to be the only sensible approach of the outside world to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Cooperation, not coercion, is the path to regional peace and stability, and Pakistan cannot be bullied or threatened into addressing the outside world’s concerns before protecting its legitimate security interests. In an interview with a wire service, Mr Abbasi has spoken of the self-defeating US approach of restricting aid to Pakistan to try and force this country to ‘do more’ in the regional fight against militancy. As Mr Abbasi has rightly stated, “We are fighting the war against terror, anything that degrades our effort will only hurt the US effort. What does it achieve?” The so-called South Asia strategy of the administration of President Donald Trump disproportionately blames Pakistan for failures that originate in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan will not be won by Kabul and the latter’s foreign allies until they recognise that competing regional interests cannot be aligned by force.

The overall political response by the Pakistani government to the US also indicates a sensible and desirable approach to dealing with a superpower that is making unreasonable demands of the country. If Pakistani and US interests do not necessarily align in the region, the answer must be greater diplomatic, political and military engagement, not less. Shrill denunciations of the US and the manipulation of public sentiment against it will only limit the state’s ability to engage with the Trump administration and the Afghan government, a scenario that can only benefit anti-peace elements in the region. To be sure, a mindless ratcheting up of pressure on Pakistan by the US will trigger some degree of angry reaction in the country; no sovereign power or people can respond well to aggression by a superpower that is patently misguided in its understanding of the region and the policies it is pursuing.

Foreign Minister Asif’s regional diplomacy has also echoed the message of Mr Abbasi: a genuine regional approach to Afghanistan’s problems and recognition that rivalries outside Afghanistan are affecting peace and stability. In Tehran, the second of three countries that Mr Asif is to visit as per the directions of the National Security Committee, the foreign minister held high-level meetings in a fairly positive atmosphere. In recent times, Pakistan-Iran tensions have escalated and complicated the necessary task of bilateral and regional cooperation. Just as Iran must recognise Pakistan’s legitimate concerns, the latter should address Tehran’s concerns. Iran itself has experienced fresh tensions with the US while India is pushing for closer cooperation for the sake of Afghan trade. Pakistan must steer a careful course and work to identify areas of cooperation with Iran.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2017