How the big nations use Afghanistan as a chessboard
The Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), on September 30, organised a Quadrilateral dialogue on Afghanistan, Regional Geo-Politics and Trade connectivity with experts from the US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The following are excerpts from two majors speeches on regional geopolitics and Afghanistan at the event by former Ambassador Ayaz Wazir and Gen. (R) Asif Yasin Malik.
Afghanistan pivotal to Peace and Connectivity – Amb Ayaz Wazir
Afghanistan as we all know, has hardly been in a state of peace except for King Zahir Shah’s period. However, we all know what happened to Afghanistan after 1973. The Afghans had to fight against the superpowers one after the other. Meanwhile, unfortunately, they had to fight among themselves too; the period when the Mujahideen drove the Soviets out and then started fighting among themselves, paving the way for the Taliban to take over. Then 9/11 happened and the US came in. I will just make the mention of one incident when the 9/11 happened, after some time when I retired, around 2009 or 2010, a western diplomat came to see me and discussed Afghanistan.
During our discussion, when I suggested to him to talk to the Taliban, he said: “Mr Wazir, you are suggesting something which is almost not acceptable, it is like pouring a bucket of cold water over my head.” Thereafter, you know what happened, the US was not ready to even listen to the name of the Taliban, let alone talking to them. Then the time came, though the Taliban were willing to talk to them (USA), they (Taliban) were demanding that we are not talking to the Afghan government because it is your puppet and you are the real power whom we want to engage with. But the US refused to talk to them; and the rest is history.
When the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban began talks spanning over ten months, and the draft was signed by both sides and the final agreement was to be signed, President Trump cancelled it. Pakistan’s role in making those talks a success was not only recognized by everyone but appreciated by the whole world that Pakistan positively contributed and that obviously was in the interest of Pakistan. Restoring peace in Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan, more than anyone else. If peace returns to Afghanistan, we benefit a lot. Main projects such as TAPI and CASA-1000, cannot be materialized, if there is no peace in Afghanistan. So when peace will return to Afghanistan, these projects will immediately begin, and other economic activities will begin.
Now whoever returns as the new president of Afghanistan, will return with much bigger authority than Ashraf Ghani and can insist that Taliban better talk to us, whereas, the real player in Afghanistan, still is the US. Now, when the next round begins, that is in our interest, in the sense that now we have a problem on our eastern border, Jammu and Kashmir has become a serious problem.
Our Prime Minister has elaborated, in his UN speech, where, violation of human rights is taking place daily. But unfortunately, the great powers or P5 are not paying enough attention to it. They are more interested in their own economic interest, in the region or in the big population without naming the country and are not worried about the human rights violations of Kashmiri people or for the economic denial for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, by denying peace to Afghanistan.
Everybody hoped that the agreement would be signed, between the Americas and the Taliban and when peace returns economic activity will begin, as China is already deeply involved in Afghanistan, and has recently, entered into an agreement with Iran i.e. $290 bn for 25 years. So the economic rift will be on one side between China and America, but the practical position is that China is entering into another agreement with Iran, so the activity will go on but for all that to happen, there must be peace in Afghanistan because, Afghanistan is located strategically. As poet Allama Iqbal has beautifully said that if you take Asia as a human body, Afghanistan is its heart. If the heart is sick, the whole body gets sick. And if the heart is healthy the whole body is healthy. So now, Afghanistan is sick, so how can the body be healthy. How can Europe look at the Euro-Asia, when the gateway is closed? So, the focus should be on the return of peace to Afghanistan, which is not only in the benefit of Pakistan but of the entire region and the whole world.
Justice and Law only for the rich – Gen. (R) Asif Yasin Malik
Ladies and gentlemen, the global environment as we have seen, is very interesting in the sense that all the justice and all the law and world organizations are for the rich and the powerful. The rest of us are just supposed to support it. With that concept or environment, comes the concept of justice and sharing- justice is both social justice and economic justice (from China). Economic justice means sharing of the global resources, interestingly, nowadays resources of the poor countries are also being decided by the richer countries, i.e. how to use and develop them. That is how economics is developing and changing.
Coming over to the region, Afghanistan has been historically, a regional conduit, or a connectivity instrument for this region, whether it was invasion or the new races coming to the region, they all came through the Afghan corridor, from the Central Asian countries. Therefore, this is nothing new that we are looking at, Afghanistan through a trade connectivity perspective. That has been neglected for a long time during the Cold War, where Afghanistan was under the Russian influence, and Pakistan and Iran were under the Western influence. Therefore, it should have been started but still it’s never too late to start. It’s very important that we revive that connectivity role of Afghanistan, and we have a golden opportunity in the form of the vision of the Chinese –the BRI and CPEC, which is like a cake on the plate, sort of situation, that right on the time when Afghanistan was transitioning to peace, the concept of BRI and CPEC started maturing. So the doors of opportunity are open for Afghanistan and beyond, which is lucky for the region.
Coming over the connectivity and the conduit, which it is, the nature of the conduit has changed, this is not the Afghanistan of 19thcentury, this is not the India of 19thcentury, when there was neither Pakistan nor Iran and other countries of the region, in the way they are today, and China of even the 20thcentury, this is the China of 21stcentury. So this is a new China, a China which people have never seen. They were seen as drugged people, enjoying on the streets and loosely walking and falling here and there. Today, it has become a force to reckon with, there is some prediction that by 2025 China will by the largest economy in the world. Now, if that be the new China, we keep hearing that they have taken out 600 million people from poverty level to better socio-economic conditions. So, if there is new China here, so the old concept of conductivity that was viewed by China has not changed from the old Silk Road to BRI, this is the change that is emerging, and this is win-win opportunity for the countries around here.
Again, this is an east-driven or Asia driven concept, and as people are saying, 21stcentury will be the century of the East, and the linchpin in the east against the western concept of making India the pivot instead of China. China is the pivot in the east, and considering India for this role, is a mistake of highest magnitude. A country which has not been able to provide basic living conditions, people grow up and die on footpaths and streets, meanwhile, there is the talk of it being economic bulwark and so on. It is a rising economy because of its size, if every Indian spends a dollar a day, it becomes 1.3 billion dollars a day, which is acceptable. But that should not be the driving factor for international relations. That is the new environment which is coming up.
We should learn from the past and not be its prisoners. When one US soldier was killed, Trump cancelled peace deal the meeting but two weeks earlier 280 Afghans were killed in a marriage bomb and nobody talked about ending the war. Unless the world thinks that we are the children of a lesser God.
Afghanistan is being considered by the western countries as a chessboard, and as you said, sneaky Khalilzad is here. I would tend to slightly disagree with you, I think all the peace processes were mostly run in enclosed doors, if you bring such processes in public domain, and then we don’t go anywhere. There are things which three or four parties in the dialogue don’t want to share in the public; unless they signed on the dotted line, therefore we should allow some sneakiness to Mr Khalilzad and regarding his views about Pakistan’s perceptions in Afghanistan, I agree with him.
The perception is very negative about Pakistan, but then perceptions are not born, they are built, as a part of a very concerted and a very well-planned campaign. It may not be the Afghans, who are creating these perceptions, there may be other friends and enemies of Pakistan and Afghanistan responsible for creating these perceptions.