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June 17, 2010, Amb. Riaz M. Khan

(Click to enlarge) Ambassador Riaz M. Khan discusses Pakistan's Afghanistan policy at the East-West Center in Washington.

Pakistan's Afghanistan Policy

 

(Washington D.C.) June 17–As a neighboring country with deep ties to Afghanistan, Pakistan is capable of making an impact on the security situation in the South Asian region, but cannot be expected to single-handedly remove the Taliban and restore order to Afghanistan. This goal must be reached through dialogue with all Afghan factions of government. During this seminar, Ambassador Riaz M. Khan, former foreign secretary of Pakistan, explained how the complexity of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s post-WWII history influences Pakistan’s current foreign policy and discussed the role he sees for Pakistan in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.
 
Amb. Khan explained that there are two distinct aspects to the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship: the people-to-people relations and the government-to-government interactions. On the citizen level, Pakistanis and Afghans share a unique overlap of culture, history, geography and demography. During periods of Afghanistan’s internal strife, refugees would cross the border to seek shelter in neighboring Pakistan. This still takes place today. Consequently, Pakistan’s Pashtun population is one that is even larger than the Pashtun population in Afghanistan.
 
The government-to-government dimension of the relationship, however, is burdened by distrust and disconnect. This has been the norm historically and has continued until present day. Amb. Khan explained that until the late 1970s, Afghanistan was part of the non-aligned movement and Pakistan was part the U.S.-backed alliance system. He argued that while these opposing viewpoints did not lead to conflict, they did raise suspicions between the two states. He also added that the disputed border area and Afghanistan’s heavy dependence on Pakistan for commerce due to its land-locked geography contribute to strained relations.
 
After the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Amb. Khan discussed how Pakistan assisted in the international effort to repel Russian forces from Afghanistan, which they did out of national interest. However, Pakistan was not prepared to host an Afghanistan government in exile on Pakistani soil, favoring instead support of the Mujahedeen struggle against Soviet forces within Afghanistan. Khan noted that the Peshawar Accord of 1992, which took place after the Soviet withdrawal, was a milestone because it allowed the Afghan and Mujahedeen factions to unite and form a government in Kabul, but received little input or collaboration from any Pakistani agency.

 

To the disappointment of Pakistan’s government, peace was not restored following the accord, and in 1996, the Taliban defeated the Northern Alliance and captured Kabul, solidifying their control over a majority of Afghanistan’s territory. By 1998, much internal pressure for recognition of the new Afghan government had built up, resulting in Pakistan’s official recognition of the Taliban government. Amb. Khan clarified that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) did not create the Taliban government within Afghanistan, arguing, instead, that they had neither the capacity nor imagination for such an endeavor. Likewise, he argued that Pakistan could not have foreseen the outcome of Al-Qaeda within Afghanistan.

 

Amb. Khan explained that it is in Pakistan’s interest to support stability in Afghanistan because of its role as a strategically important neighbor in terms of commerce, communications and energy corridors within South and Central Asia. Khan strongly asserted that Pakistan, alone, could not defeat the Taliban. Nor could it seal the border and completely detach from the Afghan-Pashtun community. He supported efforts by Islamabad and Kabul to promote cooperation and frank discussion and also stated that, with approval from Kabul, Pakistan could greatly assist in Afghanistan’s reconciliation process.

 

Riaz M. Khan served as foreign secretary of Pakistan from February 2005 to April 2008 and as Pakistan’s ambassador to China from 2002 to 2005. He has also represented Pakistan as the ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg (1995-1998) and to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (1992-1995). Ambassador Khan was also additional foreign secretary of Pakistan, responsible for issues such as international organizations, arms control and disarmament, from 1998 to 2002 and director general, responsible for Afghanistan and Soviet affairs from 1986 to 1992 at the Pakistan Foreign Office. His publications include Untying the Afghan Knot: Negotiating Soviet Withdrawal published by Duke University Press in 1990 and a study of Chinese Communes published in 1975. A participant in many dialogues, conferences and seminars, Ambassador Khan has also conducted a number of negotiations on a variety of bilateral and multilateral issues.

 

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