ISLAMABAD: National Security Adviser (NSA) Moeed Yusuf has said that a "wait-and-see approach" on Afghanistan is tantamount to abandoning the war-torn country and has called for holding a donor conference to formulate immediate humanitarian and economic relief plans for averting the risks of instability and threat of terrorism faced by the entire world.
“A wait-and-see approach, although more politically tenable for many countries, would be tantamount to abandonment … A starting point could be a major donor conference where regional players and Western countries sit together and draw up specific plans for immediate humanitarian and economic relief,” he wrote in an article published in US-based journal Foreign Affairs on Thursday.
The NSA further stated that US President Joe Biden was right to end the US military mission in Afghanistan, and “today, Afghanistan faces a choice: it can either walk the arduous path of peace or revert to civil unrest. The latter will have catastrophic repercussions for the Afghan people and spillover effects for the neighbourhood and beyond.”
He also pointed out that the "spread of refugees, drugs, weapons, and transnational terrorism from a destabilised Afghanistan does not serve the interests of the Afghan people nor the rest of the world, most of all Pakistan".
While Yusuf affirmed that Pakistan had the ability and willingness to "assist in pushing Afghanistan in a positive direction, it alone cannot guarantee the outcomes we all desire".
"Pakistan does not wield any extraordinary influence over the new rulers in Kabul, as both monetary assistance and legitimacy for the Taliban can only come (or not) from the world’s major powers," he wrote. “History will judge us very poorly if we do not create the most conducive possible environment to push them in a healthy direction — for the collective benefit of Afghans and the world.”
The NSA expressed the concern that that failure to do so would result in Pakistan bearing the brunt of any negative spillover from Afghanistan.
“We have already carried more than our share of the burden,” he added, referring to Pakistan’s sacrifices in US-led in Afghanistan.
Commenting on former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's regime, the NSA said it had been unable to sustain itself, and "propping it up with billions more dollars would only have delayed its inevitable collapse".
Speaking of wars launched in Afghanistan, Yusuf said after the Afghan people, Pakistan had been the "greatest victim" of those conflicts.
"The Soviet invasion in 1979 and the subsequent US-led military campaign after 9/11 were not of Pakistan’s making. Yet our society, polity, and economy bore the brunt of the conflict over the last four decades."
In 2001, he recalled, Pakistan had joined America's war on terror "against the very same actors who were hailed as freedom fighters when Washington and Islamabad together trained and backed them to defeat the Soviets in the 1980s".
After the 9/11 attacks, the US issued an ultimatum to then-president General Pervez Musharraf that he was either “with us or against us”, the NSA added, saying that Musharraf, under pressure, provided the US "virtually unconditional support", including access to airbases and ground and air supply routes.
"The post-9/11 decision to launch a military campaign against Afghanistan’s erstwhile freedom fighters, many of whom had deep cultural and ethnic affiliation with tribesmen in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions, resulted in a massive insurgency against the Pakistani state," he explained.
“Over 50 militant groups sprang up, seeking to punish the Pakistani state for collaborating with the United States. They targeted our cities and massacred our children; 3.5 million civilians were displaced from their homes at the height of this onslaught," he said. " In the last 20 years, Pakistan has suffered over 80,000 casualties as a result of terrorist attacks, as well as over $150 billion in economic losses.”
Yusuf also discussed in the article how Pakistan had to host millions of Afghans refugees as a result of the war in their country.
"Furthermore, Afghanistan’s chaos brought a 'Kalashnikov culture' and narco-trafficking to Pakistan: our country’s addiction rates rose nearly 50 times," he added.
Yet, Western governments continued to accuse Pakistan of being "duplicitous and asked us to 'do more' ” he regretted.
"This disconnect colored the Pakistan-US partnership for the better part of the last two decades. At its core, it stemmed from a divergence of views on how to end the war and bring peace to Afghanistan," Yusuf explained.
Further elaborating on US-Pakistan ties, Yusuf wrote in the article that “The United States’ solution [in Afghanistan] was to achieve a total victory over the Taliban. Even when Washington began considering negotiations with the group, many American officials saw it as a means of creating internal fractures within the Taliban rather than negotiating an even-handed deal.”
The NSA said Pakistan, on the other hand, had been pointing out to the "the folly of its plans".
"Pakistan urged the United States and its Nato ( North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies to recognise that Al Qaeda had been dealt a severe blow and that, even as Western powers continued their mission against international terrorist groups, they needed to recognise that the Taliban were a political reality in Afghanistan."
He also claimed that Pakistan had urged the US a decade ago, when the number of its troops in Afghanistan was the highest, to use this "leverage to negotiate an acceptable political settlement to the war".
Washington, however, had "ignored this advice, and talks never became the principal pillar of US strategy,” he regretted.
He also criticrised Western governments for what he described as turning a blind eye to their and the Afghan government’s failures, which had helped resuscitate the Taliban.
"Nevertheless, Pakistan engaged with the government in Kabul with sincerity of purpose," he added.
'Blame shifted to Pakistan'
The NSA claimed that all of Pakistan’s requests regarding Afghanistan "were turned down, ignored, or actively resisted".
In this connection, he gave the example of Afghan authorities physically tearing down in 2007 border biometric systems Pakistan was installing , "under the flimsy pretext that Afghanistan did not recognise the international border and was therefore opposed to physical controls".
"It stands to reason that if the porousness of the border was really the Afghan government’s chief concern, it would have moved swiftly to help Pakistan monitor it effectively," he opined.
He said that since the government in Kabul was "unwilling or unable to fix these internal failures, so it shifted attention and blame onto Pakistan".
"This also suited countries that were pouring billions of dollars into Afghanistan, with little to show for it in terms of defeating the Taliban."
The advisor wrote that the focus on the border had also masked the reality that terrorists based in Afghanistan were collaborating with "our arch rival, India, and with elements in the Afghan intelligence services to regularly carry out attacks inside Pakistan".
He claimed that with Indian support, these groups conducted targeted killings across Pakistan and high-profile attacks on Pakistan’s largest stock exchange, a major university, and a luxury hotel in the port city of Gwadar, among many others.
"Simultaneously, India worked to taint Pakistan’s reputation through an orchestrated propaganda campaign, using fake news networks to perpetuate a diversionary narrative that sought to blame Pakistan for Afghanistan’s failings."
Meanwhile, he said, the US kept pressing for Pakistan to further escalate its own military campaign against the Afghan Taliban.
"The truth, however, is that the group had no organised presence in Pakistan and military action against a few dispersed individuals — who may, from time to time, have managed to melt away among the thousands of Afghan refugees — would not have changed the outcome in Afghanistan, but would have left thousands more Pakistanis martyred," he added.
Yusuf said: “An escalation was, therefore, unacceptable to us, as we repeatedly conveyed to the United States for over a decade. Our alternative of leading with a political dialogue that forced all sides to compromise, supplemented by military and other tools as needed, would have produced a naturally inclusive government while ending the conflict years earlier. And yet every time we raised this, we were seen as insincere.”
Yusuf stressed that the "rapid collapse" of the Ghani administration in Afghanistan "has left no doubt that the [Afghan] government’s failures were not of Pakistan’s making".
“Corruption, bad governance, refusal of Afghans to stand behind their government and state, and the 300,000-strong Afghan National Security Forces’ choice not to fight against a lightly armed insurgency lie at the heart of the return of the Taliban.”
Yet, some voices in Western capitals continued to scapegoat Pakistan for this failure, he regretted, adding that blaming Pakistan was not only factually incorrect, but it also "undermines the spirit of international cooperation necessary to end the cycle of violence that has devastated Afghanistan".
Suggesting a way forward on this front, the NSA said, "Afghanistan deserves peace and prosperity, and a blame game among international actors will not get us there. Nor will a repeat of the mistakes of the 1990s, when the United States abandoned Afghanistan and sanctioned Pakistan."
He said the prudent way forward was for the international community to engage constructively with the new government in Kabul.
"The goal must be to create the conditions for Afghan civilians to earn a respectable livelihood and to live in peace. This will require the international community, especially the countries who were present in Afghanistan for two decades, to play a positive role in leveraging their influence to further the cause of peace and stability".
The adviser further said that Pakistan had been at the forefront of international humanitarian efforts since the fall of Kabul.
"It has helped evacuate approximately 20,000 foreign citizens and Afghans from the country, as well as creating an air and land bridge to channel emergency supplies to the country.
“These efforts are important, but diplomatic engagement with Afghanistan must go much further. Afghanistan does not have the resources or institutional capacity to stave off economic disaster on its own."
The NSA said that Pakistan, too, wanted an inclusive setup and protection of human rights in Afghanistan. And the Taliban had repeatedly stated their interest in continued engagement with the world, he added.
“This is an opportunity for the international community — the leverage generated through assistance and the legitimacy Taliban will derive from it can be used to secure inclusive governance from the new government.”
He also stressed the need for the Western diplomacy "to be better connected with regional initiatives to forge a common agenda for [the] engagement and decide on the multilateral and bilateral avenues available to channel assistance".
Moreover, he called for an understanding on the terms of the release of the Afghan central bank’s reserves, most of which are held by the US.
"Such a forum could also be used to encourage countries that have unfinished development projects in Afghanistan to consider completing them for the benefit of the Afghan people. A coordinated global approach will reduce the risks of international divisions over how best to engage the Taliban."
On Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan, Yusuf said the two countries shared a long border and cultural links that stretched back centuries.
"These geographical and societal connections compel Pakistan to advocate for peace in Afghanistan, as instability there risks spilling over into our country," he said, adding that “The Pakistani Taliban, the Islamic State, and other anti-Pakistan groups in Afghanistan cannot be allowed to harm Pakistan."
"Nor are we in a position to accept more Afghan refugees, who will inevitably be driven onto our soil by another spasm of violence in their home country,” Yusuf said.
He further noted that the livelihoods of millions of Afghans were linked to Pakistan, as Afghanistan was land-locked country and largely relied on Pakistan for trade.
"The country’s (Afghanistan's) geographical position could become an advantage if it transforms itself into a transit hub that connects Central Asia to Pakistan’s warm waters."
The NSA said Pakistan was committed to peace in Afghanistan and in the region.
"Today, Pakistan is seeking to foster economic interdependence through regional connectivity and development partnerships, while settling political disputes amicably," he said. And “Afghanistan could serve as a model for this regional vision, but the international community must also play its part. By engaging with the new Afghan authorities now, the United States and other global powers can avert a humanitarian crisis, help Afghans live in peace, and ensure that the threat of terrorism emanating from Afghan soil is ended once and for all."
"This is not only their collective responsibility, it is also in their self-interest.”
He blamed the Ghani government for stalling these possibilities, "snubbing Pakistan’s offers for more streamlined trade and economic cooperation and fast-tracking of connectivity projects with Central Asia".
However, Yusuf said, “Such connectivity is not only key to Pakistan’s geoeconomic vision, but it also corresponds with the US-led regional vision of establishing economic linkages between Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.”
Yusuf said multiple such projects were already underway, including energy and electricity inflow from Central Asia, a trans-Afghanistan rail project from Uzbekistan, and projects to upgrade the road infrastructure to create a viable corridor of connectivity.
"The US investments in energy, minerals, and infrastructure could potentially herald a new era of cooperation in these regions and buttress peace efforts," he said, adding that "coordinated engagement involving Western powers, China, Russia, Middle Eastern countries, and Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours would maximise the chances of realising our common objectives in Afghanistan."