The distrust continues
VIOLENCE on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border continues. It is a dangerous trend that has evolved in recent years with no end in sight. As the foreign ministries of the two countries sparred over the implications of Punjabi Taliban leader Asmatullah Muawiya's announcement that his group will no longer commit violence inside Pakistan, but continues to believe in jihad elsewhere, Pakistani security personnel came under attack from Afghan-based anti-Pakistan militants.
While a further escalation in tensions seems unlikely — barring some kind of unexpected and brazen attack on either side of the border — neither is a de-escalation apparent. That is in part because of the domestic political dynamics at work in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, a contested presidential election result has cast a dark shadow over the much-hyped hopes for the poll being a major part of a peaceful and stable country emerging in the post-2014 phase.
In Pakistan, meanwhile, the ongoing political crisis has further put on the defensive a government that had very limited input on the Afghan policy anyway. Yet, immediate political situations in both countries aside, there is a bigger problem here: joined at the hip as they may be, neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan has figured out quite how to address the other's legitimate security interests in a mutually beneficial manner. Instead, fear dominates.
Pakistan worries about an Afghanistan where regional rivals gain ground and about a porous border from which trouble can be exported to Pakistan. Afghanistan worries about Pakistan using the Pakhtun-Islamist nexus to keep the country in a state of semi-disarray and, in many ways, as a vassal state. Even developments, good and bad, over the past decade inside both countries have not greatly changed those fundamentals.
Pakistan, suffering from a home-grown insurgency, has tried to distance itself from a policy of using non-state actors, but not decisively broken away from it as yet. Afghanistan has seen many economic and social changes — including the configuration of power in Kabul — over the last decade that while strengthening the non-Pakhtun segments of the population, has only papered over ethnic divisions rather than worked to genuinely alleviate them.
Ultimately though, both Afghanistan and Pakistan have a straightforward choice: cooperate and deny space to militancy in the region or suffer even more from policies rooted in fear. If the latter occurs by default, it would be a mistake to believe that eventually — once Afghanistan and Pakistan realise the folly of their ways — the effects will be reversible. Militancy changes the social fabric, it impacts societies in ways deep and pervasive.
It is not like a war fought by armies that return to the barracks. Overcoming fear is never easy, but Afghanistan and Pakistan must find a way to do it.
Dawn (Pakistan). All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement with ANN.