The Cold War has ended, the War on Terror is also lingering on without any certain objective and American policymakers have had enough of the Bush and Obama legacy of clearing out things by force. Hillary or Trump, objectives in Afghanistan whatever they may be, have lost their directives and Afghanistan will be brushed under the carpet like Panama and Vietnam. This being said, there is one particular state in South Asia that needs to separate emotion from reason. The Afghan war of 2001 is nothing like the Afghan war of 1979 and for all the right reasons they must both be seen separate. The war of 1979 was all about an identified enemy who had identified designated goals and a clear direction, this new enemy is a labyrinth of state actors, intelligence agencies, sleeper cells and non-state entities with an intricate mesh of goals and objectives that have neither a clear direction nor a clear target. However, Afghanistan does not see the clear picture that provocation might have been a viable defense mechanism in 1979 but it never will be a workable solution now. Maybe allowing Afghanistan a ‘recess’ through an unmined, unfenced, unchecked Durand Line might have been the most that could have been done to secure Pakistan from a Communist onslaught but now such a strategic disposition has run its course. The bigger picture however, is that to do? Without rationalizing what it means for Pakistan to have its Western perimeter unguarded, the political and military policymakers have yet to decide how to secure the most vital access point into the sovereign jurisdiction of Pakistan. There are suggestions and hints that Durand Line will be fenced and fortified with adequate security installations but the bigger picture still eludes decision makers.
We have had a whole history of ‘carrot and stick’ alliance with the US and recent denial of military hardware necessary to extend and conclude Operation Zarb-e-A’zb is somewhat a familiar stroke of bad luck. The Af-Pak strategy has seemed to run its course on both sides of the Durand Line and now that American political transition is midway, this vacuum could be Pakistan’s only window of opportunity of doing what is right; before Trump or Hilary take over, Pakistan needs to settle the Afghan conundrum both politically and militarily. Border fencing and check posts is merely one phase of a complex strategy to deal with Afghanistan because if Pakistan’s eastern and western borders resemble a similar outlook, the fear that adversaries on both sides could have a merger of interests would have a devastating burden on Pakistan’s national interests within and beyond South Asia. Operation Zarb-e-A’zb has reached its final combing phase where sporadic but frequent skirmishes are likely to keep Pakistani armed forces busy but politically speaking, there needs to be a bureaucratic shift of policy towards settling how Afghanistan is to be dealt with in the future. There can be three distinct directions where Pakistan could head towards and each direction would have its own signature over Pakistan’s strategic directives; Pakistan could choose to remain defensive over Afghan internal instability and act diplomatically docile, Pakistan’s Foreign Office could take up the Afghan situation as a test case to practice regional proactivity by stapling regional interests with Afghan compliance to pacifism or Pakistan could perpetually fence Afghan borders and continue doing what is being done in the eastern corridor. The armed forces are following protocols laid down by administrative legislative directives but in this case they are not equipped with much legislative clarity. They may be able to neutralize any belligerence on both borders but making sure that no internal reaction damages their proficiency is entirely a civilian jurisdiction.
There are people in Pakistan who think that it is a military domain, hence civil administration should remain passive of the matter, some other even suggest that for the time being, civilian administration should be concluded and replaced with an ad hoc military setup but both these suggestions are detrimental to Pakistan internally and externally. If there is such thing as an unconventional war or propaganda, Pakistan is well on its way to being substantially damaged. American objectives have been subject to a multitude of challenges foreign and domestic and before Afghanistan turns to what Iraq is now, neighboring states are required to do what is necessary to seal all crevices. Operation Zarb-e-A’zb should not be seen only through a kaleidoscope of a military offensive initiative but rather as a chance to create a much needed vacuum in destabilized regions of FATA in order to introduce a much needed reevaluation of border sanctity with Afghanistan. If said operation is only rendered to the extent of a frictional enterprise, insurgent factions and non-state entities would be able to capitalize said vacuum in their favor through sympathy. It can be in shape of manipulating IDPs or Afghan refugees by means of fear or persuasion, both of which would deal irreparable damage to security infrastructure of Pakistan. Civilian administration, which seems too busy with non-issues on both floors of the parliament, requires a recalculation of actual issues with that which are absolutely unnecessary. Agreeing that state functioning requires accountability of actions but not at the cost of national integrity. One could wish for both government and opposition to see Torkham incident with a bit more mature angle but so far, this seems to be a farfetched proposition.
Afghanistan is standing where Iraq stood in 2012 but for some reasons, international community seems to ignore an undertone which resembles post-Soviet Afghanistan. State agencies are unable to distinguish between regional stability and internal solidarity while international actors seem to turn a blind eye to what Afghanistan might become. Now with border management underway, easier said than done keeping in mind schematics of the Durand Line and socio-cultural imperatives on both sides, Afghanistan may be well on its way to install one of the most powerful political power vacuums in the region’s history. Mr. Ghani and his government does not realize that even if an American withdrawal is not initiated and foreign presence remains in place, Taliban and their objectives remain what they always have been; power in the center. The current government in Kabul neither acts nor responds to any provocative gesture offered by factions seeking power in Afghanistan but have instead turned their focus towards Pakistan. One of two scenario occurrences can be deduced; either that Afghan government does not have any retaliatory capability to internally stabilize their security or they are also bent on introducing asymmetry in the regional security complex to extract maximum international benefit. Even if we ignore ISIS opening a franchise in Afghanistan by alibiing that their focus solely remains Middle East, any potential security anomaly can render Kabul defenseless. A border clash with Pakistan is exactly what Kabul needs to initiate such a meltdown because Pakistan’s military capability surpasses that of Afghan forces and any provocative bellicosity could make a difference. Whether Pakistan is willing to use this to its advantage is hearsay because of its economic outreach towards Central Asia as a means to rejuvenate its economic depression and aggressive transnational aggression would be entirely counterproductive.
As far as Islamabad is concerned, the Foreign Office needs to play a proactive role in restructuring its posture by accommodating both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Security policy of a state is a composite of domestic and international forecasting with the ability to project a multitude of relative goals in pursuance of defined absolute directives. Border management needs to be backed up by diplomatic rationale as to why a refugee withdrawal from Pakistan is necessary in pursuance of internal stability. Furthermore, a concrete and defined set of flexibly achievable principles also needs to be underlined not only till expiry of a government but as a state policy. Border management would be unable to achieve any substantial success if status of the Durand Line is not clarified and as long as FATA and other regions remain fortified but politically vacant. One of the most dangerous backlashes of border control in Pakistan would be a socio-cultural wave of ignoring traditional practices of resident population and their concept of the Durand Line. This repercussion is not yet activated but saying that it would not come into play is closing one’s eyes and pretending that everything is pristine. Civilian administration needs to consider revisiting that status of FATA and adjacent regions because as long as a region does not have substantial stakes in preservation of a state, it cares less of what may happen in a meltdown.
On a lighter note, Afghan officials and international community need to seriously generate a catharsis that Pakistan or any nuclear weapon state for that matter would not prefer an instable launch platform referred to as ‘strategic depth’. Like I said, it is not 1962 anymore where Cuba or Turkey were preferred to be what they were, as time has progressed, so should academic considerations regarding nuclear weapon states. The Durand Line is not like the Indo-Pak border and whether it is Kabul or Islamabad, it must be seen so for all the right reasons.