IT is very difficult for Pakistan to be delinked from Afghanistan, because of reasons of geography and history. Yet a strategically mature and realistic policy is needed to manage relations cordially with Pakistan’s western neighbour.

At a recent consultative dialogue in Islamabad, former generals, diplomats and other experts put their heads together to discuss the situation, made all the more critical following the banned TTP’s rescinding of the ceasefire with the state. There was wide consensus that a reorientation or reformulation of Pakistan’s Afghan policy was required. But the million-dollar question remains: how?

Over the last four decades, Pakistan has played a central role in Afghan affairs, primarily after this country jumped on the Afghan jihad bandwagon with the Americans and the Saudis.

Following the USSR’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was front and centre in helping the mujahideen bring down the Soviet ‘evil empire’, to use Ronald Reagan’s term. This period, under Ziaul Haq’s watch, was one when drugs and the ‘Kalashnikov culture’ started entering Pakistan, as did millions of Afghan refugees, many of whom remain in the country.

Somewhere during the Afghan jihad, the support for the mujahideen morphed into ‘strategic depth’, a policy through which primarily the military establishment sought to maintain a friendly regime in Kabul.

This continued till the Taliban’s first government was sent packing by the US in 2001, though many foreign critics claimed that Pakistani support for the Taliban continued.

Fast forward to August 2021, when the Afghan Taliban rolled into Kabul, ending the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani. Strategic depth, it seemed, had finally delivered, as the Taliban were now masters of their domain. Yet the presence of the TTP in Afghanistan and IS-K prove that the security threat from Afghanistan continues.

It is for parliament, with input of the security establishment and foreign policy experts, to decide what the new Afghan policy should be. However, there are some points that can be considered.

For starters, Afghanistan should not be seen as part of our ‘sphere of influence’, and there should be no efforts to politically control Kabul. For two decades, the US tried a grandiose nation-building scheme in Afghanistan, and failed as the Ghani administration melted away as soon as the Taliban were within striking distance of Kabul.

Therefore, Pakistan, as well as other foreign powers, should help facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue, but by no means should they try and manipulate Afghan politics. Secondly, the message to Kabul’s rulers should be clear: no anti-Pakistan terrorists or hostile foreign elements should find refuge on Afghan soil.

With the TTP rearing its ugly head, this message must be crystal clear. An Afghanistan at peace with itself and the world is in Pakistan’s interest, and this should be the goal of our Afghan policy.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

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