National and International Issues

Pakistan & the Changing Regional Scenario

Writing this article in mid-October, one has to contend with latest reports on both the external and internal fronts. On the economic front, the reports suggest that the country’s oil import bill widened by over 97 per cent to $4.59 billion in the first quarter of current fiscal year. The food import bill widened by over 38.03 percent to $2.36 billion in the first three months of the current fiscal year. It will go up further in the next few months because the government has decided to import 0.6m tonnes of sugar and 4m tonnes of wheat to build strategic reserves.
The good news is that our textile exports have increased as has the import of machinery – largely for the power generation sector but also for the textile sector. Much more is however needed if we are going to be able to provide jobs for our burgeoning population; the growth of which we have been unable to control.
According to FBR, 2.47 million tax returns have been received but this represents only a percentage of those who should be filing. Many of Pakistan’s economic problems would certainly be resolved if taxes, particularly the progressive income tax, were to be collected and become 20% of Pakistan’s GDP. 
There have been some positive developments on the foreign policy front. The agreement between India and Pakistan’s DG MOs to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control in Kashmir – which was signed on February 25, 2021 – was certainly significant. Its importance is diminished but not made redundant by the fact that its operative paragraph which reads, “In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGs MO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have [the] propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence”, has not led to the talks that this formulation promised. Instead, we have had a steady escalation of Indian efforts to militarily suppress the struggle of the Kashmiri people against the foreign occupation.
There is a report that India has, in concert with Moscow, decided not only to attend the proposed meeting hosted by Russia in Moscow on October 20 but to host a meeting on Afghanistan itself to which Pakistan, among others, will be invited. Indian newspaper reports state that this came about as a result of back-channel discussions Ajit Doval has had with his Pakistani counterpart. Doval has apparently also extended an invitation to Pakistan’s Senate Chairperson on behalf of Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to attend the centennial celebration of the creation of the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament in early December. On the face of it, these seem to be positive developments but do they change the situation in terms of the issues that divide India and Pakistan?


There seems to be little prospect of Prime Minister Modi changing his present stance on Kashmir. His replacement of officers from the Kashmir Civil service with civil servants from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) and giving them permanent domicile in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir does not bode well.


There seems to be little prospect of Prime Minister Modi changing his present stance on Kashmir. His replacement of officers from the Kashmir Civil service with civil servants from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS) and giving them permanent domicile in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir does not bode well. Indian efforts to suggest that the problems the occupation forces are facing in Kashmir are a result of infiltration is belied by reports from within India reluctantly acknowledging that the Kashmiri peoples’ struggle against the occupation forces is almost entirely indigenous and that infiltration from Azad Kashmir or from the Sialkot Sector has become almost impossible given the three-layered fencing the Indians have created.
On another front, while PM Modi’s promotion of Hindutva and Citizenship Amendment Act and the Certificate of Indian Nationality are theoretically an internal affair of India, they do deny citizenship to Muslims. Other minorities are affected but to a lesser degree. The main impact however is that this chauvinistic nationalism creates fear for the Muslim minority and inspires the sort of riots that occurred in 2020. 
It sets the sort of example which makes regional cooperation – be it in SAARC or in a combination of SAARC and Central Asian countries – more difficult despite the obvious economic advantages that would flow from the creation of an ambience of religious tolerance. Perhaps Ajit Dovals’ initiative will make a difference but one will have to wait and see.
While the international media has written extensively on the bigotry Prime Minister Modi’s government is encouraging, it must be recognized that for the Western Alliance led by the USA India is the key to the newly coined Indo-Pacific (what was known as the Asia-Pacific) alliance to counter China’s rise. Modi can therefore get away with a great deal knowing that “Protection of Human Rights” talked about as a fundamental principle of U.S. foreign policy will not be applicable to Modi’s India just as it is not to Israel. 
It was amusing and deeply upsetting, in this context, to read the response of the U.S. State Department to reports of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and destruction of olive trees belonging to Palestinians, the U.S. Department spokesman said the following on October 15, “We believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and, critically, that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. We’ve been very clear that this includes settlement activity…. That includes, as well, destruction of property and violence against civilians. We’ve been consistently clear on those fronts”. Such clarity of course brings no pressure to bear on Israel to refrain from such actions or to reverse them. So, verbiage and no concrete action is all the U.S. State Department has to offer to the Palestinians, Kashmiris or Muslims in India. 
While Pakistan can justifiably call attention to this hypocrisy, it must deal with the fact that this is the factual position and while it should try and win support for greater equity, its policy must be based on recognizing this hard reality.


Because of the close relationship between the two countries, it has been traditional for Pakistan to calculate its wheat needs to cover somewhere between 2 and 3 million for legitimate or clandestine transfer to Afghanistan. Pakistani traders are clamoring for further facilities at the border to permit more trade with Afghanistan, including primarily wheat flour milled in KP. 


For Pakistan, it can be said that while Prime Minister Modi’s actions in Kashmir and domestically are more important in the long run, they are less urgent at this time than the situation in Afghanistan. The chaotic U.S. departure from Afghanistan, the collapse of the Afghan National Defence Security forces and Taliban takeover, along with the resistance in Panjshir Valley being quickly vanquished, has meant that the Taliban, even while not representing all segments of Afghanistan’s multi-national, multi-lingual society, are the dominant force in Afghanistan today.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have had a difficult relationship from the very start. No Afghan government has accepted the internationally accepted Durand Line as the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Very rarely have there been periods in which vituperative propaganda against Pakistan has not been the norm in Afghan official or independent media. This did not change during the time Taliban first came to control much of Afghanistan in 1994. 
On the other hand, during the periods of chaos in Afghanistan, middle class Afghans spoke of having their cars ready and packed to move to Hayatabad in Peshawar, in case of trouble. It was often said that when real estate prices fell in Kabul they rose in Hayatabad. 
Today’s Taliban have also made it clear that they will make their own decisions and will not be guided by any country. The decision they made to stop PIA flights from Kabul or stop Afghans from crossing into Pakistan even for medical assistance are an indication of how they intend interacting with Pakistan. 
Pakistan, on its part, has almost completed the fencing of its border with Afghanistan and has made it clear that the earlier practice of allowing those with cross-border tribal affiliations to cross without visas will no longer be permitted and travel between the two countries will be governed by the same rules that govern travel between two independent countries.     
The Taliban are undoubtedly the dominant force in a country that relied for 70% of its GDP on foreign assistance. The principal source of revenue in Afghanistan was the taxes on imports. A large part of those were on goods (about $4 billion) that were imported specifically for smuggling into Pakistan. The other source of income, calculated at about $2.5 billion, is derived from taxes on opium cultivation, its refining and smuggling by various routes – Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian republics to markets primarily in Europe and partly in Russia. 
In the recent years, there has been another narcotic, methamphetamine for production and marketing of which Afghanistan has become an important source with Herat, Farah and Nimroz being the principal provinces involved. One report suggests that the value of this product may, in time, rival the income from poppy.
There is no doubt that Pakistan has to ensure that this flow of narcotics from Afghanistan to Pakistan stops along with the smuggling of goods imported specifically for export to Pakistan. 
At the same time, given the present freeze on access to Afghan government funds in the U.S. federal reserve and other western controlled organizations (more than 9 billion dollars) Pakistan must be willing to provide whatever facilities are needed by international humanitarian organizations to provide food and medical assistance to Afghanistan. 
Apart from humanitarian reasons for helping Afghanistan, Pakistan has also to take account of the fact that despite the fencing, economic refugees from Afghanistan will find it easier to escape to Pakistan than to any other country. Pakistan is, according to the UNHCR, host to the largest number of Afghan refugees. Estimates vary but one calculation is that there are 1.7 million refugees in the camps, another 1.7 who are unregistered and another 1.7 who have acquired Pakistan’s national identity cards or passports. It can ill afford any further addition to these numbers when our economy is just beginning to recover some measure of growth.  
Because of the close relationship between the two countries, it has been traditional for Pakistan to calculate its wheat needs to cover somewhere between 2 and 3 million for legitimate or clandestine transfer to Afghanistan. Pakistani traders are clamoring for further facilities at the border to permit more trade with Afghanistan, including primarily wheat flour milled in KP. One would think that our government would ask the United Nations humanitarian organizations or other humanitarian organizations currently working on providing aid to Afghanistan to buy and transfer this wheat rather than leaving it to private traders. Despite competition from Kazakhstan, Pakistan’s wheat with quick access may be cheaper for Afghanistan.
This is necessarily not as composite of a picture of Pakistan as one would have liked to present but it does serve, one hopes, to identify the problems Pakistan faces and the positive developments that can help Pakistan move forward.


The writer is a former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to the U.S. and Iran. He is also the former Chancellor of the Institute of Business Management, a Karachi based University.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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