The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.

Pakistan’s policy change on Afghanistan adds to regional complexity

By: Saleem Kakar

Numerous media outlets report that the Pakistani government is preparing to commence the second phase of expelling Afghan nationals from the country, targeting more than 600,000 holders of Afghan Citizen Cards (ACC) starting next month. According to Arab News, a Riyadh-based newspaper, the Pakistani government officials have confirmed that the government has already initiated the process of mapping Afghan nationals nationwide for deportation after the upcoming Eid Al-Fitr festival. This campaign primarily targets individuals holding Afghan citizen cards issued by Pakistan in 2017. The government of Pakistan alleges that Afghan nationals within Pakistan are engaged in violent activities against its citizens and security forces; however, there is insufficient evidence to support these accusations against Afghan refugees. Despite facing criticism from the United Nations, influential leaders, and human rights watchdogs, the government of Pakistan has forcibly expelled approximately half a million Afghan refugees since last November. This decision appears to have been prompted by an escalation in military activities attributed to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which Pakistani officials claim finds sanctuary in Afghanistan – a contention that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has repeatedly refuted. Presently, Pakistan is home to more than 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, including an estimated 1.7 million individuals without proper documentation, according to figures from the Pakistani Interior Ministry. These migrants sought refuge in Pakistan over the years, fleeing from conflicts, internal turmoil, and economic hardships triggered by the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the subsequent 20-year American occupation of Afghanistan. The perplexing question arises as to why Pakistan, after decades of extending a warm welcome to Afghan migrants, has shifted to a U-turn policy against Afghanistan, particularly following the assumption of power by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It appears that despite professing a desire to maintain positive relations with Afghanistan, the government of Pakistan has consistently taken actions against the Afghan government, leading to strained relations over the past years. In recent weeks, Pakistan has reignited sporadic rocket launches into southern provinces of Afghanistan, resulting in the tragic deaths of Afghan civilians, including women and children, as they slept peacefully at night. Likewise, it has imposed various restrictions on Afghans, including expulsion from its territory. Additionally, it has routinely closed border gates at Torkham and Spin Boldak crossings, denying entry to Afghan families, patients, traders, students, and truck drivers. This closure has posed significant risks to the livelihoods of farmers and traders on both sides, particularly affecting the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Strategically, the government of Pakistan has not only permitted the United States to utilize its airspace but has also sustained security cooperation with the U.S. aimed at combating Islamic groups under the guise of the ‘War on Terror’. These actions highlight Pakistan’s misguided trajectory, deviating from the ideals it was founded upon in 1947 – a legacy of struggles and sacrifices by Indian Muslims aimed at fighting oppression, liberating Kashmir, and establishing an Islamic government. However, the government of Pakistan’s current course appears to prioritize foreign agendas over these foundational Islamic values. Therefore, one could possibly conclude that these measures collectively suggest that Pakistan is pursuing a hidden agenda, leveraging the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issue as a political justification for its misconduct against Afghan Muslims. Unfortunately, these planned initiatives reflect a new policy agenda that does not benefit either nation, further exacerbating tensions between two Muslim nations separated by the artificial Durand Line border. Historically, we have witnessed that Pakistan has supported American scenarios during the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan – allowing its airspace for the U.S.-NATO troops; facilitating the logistical support to U.S.-NATO; suppressing the tribal areas of FATA; and targeting the tribal leaders in coordination with the American intelligence. The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan became strained during Imran Khan’s tenure; however, the Pakistani Armed Forces have worked to improve relations with the U.S. Michael Kugelman, the Deputy Director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center wrote on his X handle: “When the U.S. took out Bin Laden, relations with Pakistan sunk to a new low. With the U.S. taking out Zawahiri and quite possibly with Pakistani assistance, relations with Pakistan may receive one of their biggest boosts in years”. A report by Reuters also indicates that “the use of CIA drones to hit Zawahiri points to a secret overflight agreement with a neighboring country something the U.S. military does not have.” The report also stresses that most likely, the drone flew over Pakistan’s airspace before it entered Afghanistan to carry out the strike in Kabul. It is pertinent to note that under a 2003 agreement between Pakistan and the U.S., Washington has access to an air corridor for flights to and from Afghanistan. With Pakistan desperately wanting to repair ties with the U.S., it is entirely possible that Islamabad went a step further and shared intelligence as well. Alternatively, some analysts and observers estimate that the government of Pakistan is aligning itself with America’s global agenda in the region. This strategic alignment stems from the U.S. Pivot to Asia policy initiated in 2011, aimed at countering China’s growing influence in the IndoPacific regions. To achieve this objective, the U.S. has forged alliances with key Southeast Asian and South Asian nations like Japan, Australia, and India to contain Chinese dominance on a global scale. As part of this broader strategy, the U.S. envisions a robust and industrialized India free from regional conflicts, capable of assisting in the U.S.- China rivalry. Consequently, Pakistan, historically viewed as a rival to India, is urged to downplay its Kashmir agenda and foster positive relations with India to reassure American interests. This shift in focus by the Pakistani government is seen by some as an attempt to divert public attention by escalating border conflicts and scapegoating Afghanistan for not addressing the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) threat, a situation exacerbated by Pakistan’s inconsistent policies over the years. In conclusion, the key to resolving the ongoing conflict lies in Pakistani officials acknowledging that prioritizing the interests of Western or Eastern powers will not serve the best interests of Pakistan or improve relations with Afghanistan. To secure a prosperous future for both Muslim populations, the government of Pakistan must refrain from betraying its own principles and the trust of its people, as well as Afghan Muslims. Instead, they should adopt a political agenda grounded in Islamic Sharia principles, focusing on restoring unity among Muslims on both sides, pledging to working for security, economic stability, political harmony, and peace in the region. This approach aligns with the foundational philosophy upon which Pakistan was established back in 1947.

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The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.