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QK Archives: Afghanistan: Risky royal option

Afghanistan: Risky royal option

Originally published by THE Nation 31 October 2000 Nawa-e-Waqt group

Brigadier (Retd) A.R. Siddiqi

About the risks involved for Pakistan in supporting the return of ex-King Zahir Shah to Afghanistan, as the supreme peace maker, at least two cases could be recalled to prove the royal antipathy towards Pakistan. That is besides the active support of the King and his court for the creation of the separate state of Pushtoonistan, outside Pakistan, as an extension of Afghanistan.
Case one: In a rare interview (perhaps the only one over to a Pakistani editor) Soviet Scholar and historian Professor Yu V. Gankosaky, DSC, told me: "In December 1971, General Sardar Abdul Wali Khan, Commander of the Central Corps based in Kabul suggested an invasion of Peshawar. King Zahir Shah, though not enthusiastic about General Wali's invasion plan did not oppose it either.
'At this stage the Soviet Union intervened and succeeded in forestalling the anticipated move.'
"That put the relations between the King and the army under strain and marked the beginning of the crisis that was eventually to lead to the overthrow of the King and the end of kingship in Afghanistan in July 1973.
'Sardar Mohammad Daud was supported by the army largely for his pro-Pakhtoonistan posture.'
That was in December 1982 while Professor Gankovsky had been to Pakistan for an international seminar on the strategy for peace and security in South Asia. The seminar was organised by the Islamabad Institute of Strategic Studies. On his way back to Moscow, the Professor routed through Karachi and called on me at my office for a lively exchange of views.
Case two: On June 13, 1948, Marshal Shah Wali Khan, the Afghan envoy to Pakistan at a party in his honour in Karachi by the Aligarh Old Boys' Association categorically declared 'our government has already stated, and I, as the representative of Afghanistan, declare that Afghanistan has no claims on frontier territory and even if there were any, they have been given up in favour of Pakistan. Anything contrary to this which may have appeared in the press in the past or may appear in the future should not be given credence at all and should be considered just a canard.'

About the same time, the official Farsi daily, Anis, supported by Kabul radio, demanded that the territory between the Durand Line and the Indus river should be amalgamated with Afghanistan. However, a statement supporting the views expressed by his Ambassador was soon issued by the consular of the Afghan Embassy in Karachi. This led to an unusual situation in which Kabul radio challenged the authority of the Afghan envoy to speak for his own government. These contradictions not only created an awkward position for the envoy, but also proved to be detrimental to Pak-Afghan relations.
In July 1949, the Afghan Parliament declared that "it does not recognise the imaginary Durand or any similar line". Kabul radio and the Afghan press intensified their propaganda, inciting the tribesmen living on the Pakistan side of the Durand Line to revolt in the name of 'Pakhtoonistan'.

If our past record be of any guidance, it had been one of varying (often conflicting) choices and wide fluctuations in dealing with the Afghan factions. The Wahabi-Hanafi (mainly the former under Hikmatyar) elements dominated the actual war years (1979-89): the Rabbani-Dostum (Northern Alliance) combine cosied up to Islamabad (1990-94) and the Taliban won our full support from 1994 all the way down the road until the (re) emergence of the Royal option. A royal delegation led by Mr. Hedayat Amir Arsala had been here to discuss the pros and cons of the Royal Option or the Royal mess.
Lately, even on the eve of the visit of a high-powered Afghan delegation in Islamabad, the ex-King's son-in-law in a press statement from Rome – 'warned' Pakistan against trying to play the 'king maker's role' in Afghanistan'.
'Nobody has the right to interfere in our Afghan policy'. It is the 'job' of the Afghan people and 'only the Afghan people' to 'determine' the future government of Afghanistan. 'Pushtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmans, Hazaras, Nooristanis and other 'constitute' the Afghan people,' he said.

So this is how the King's men pay Pakistan back in their own coin – (the worthless Afghani) its gratuitous support to the fugitive King as the last hope for whatever is left of Afghanistan as an organic whole – as a country and a nation. What then must we do to salvage the oneness of Afghanistan without savaging our own territorial integrity and national interests?
President Musharraf has, time and again, warned against the dangers and non-viability of an 'imposed set up' in Afghanistan. He views such a dispensation as 'un-workable' and one that could not last. It is to be clearly understood that an outside imposition would include and involve Pakistan as much as any another power. In their prevailing over-wrought mood the Taliban leadership could hardly be expected to treat Pakistan, more or less, if not as much of a foreign government as any other. Pakistan would, therefore, be well advised to discreetly distance itself from the Taliban government – at least for the time being.
If the past nearly two decades – 1979 to-date–be any guide, Afghanistan has cost Pakistan more than it has profited or helped it. Since our very emergence, our closest Islamic neighbour has been one of our major security concerns, next only to our surgical twin, India. That, however, is history with little relevance for a short comment reflecting on the need of the hour.
Our concern with shape of things to come in Afghanistan, mainly the demographic pattern of its government and the nature of its relationship with Pakistan, is absolutely natural. That such a government, if and when it is formed, would be 'broad based', moderate and stable would not only be to the unquestioned advantage of Afghanistan itself, but also to the great relief of its close neighbours – especially Pakistan.

For Pakistan has not only been just a neighbour like Iran, China and the trans-Oxus republics, but also it is the one and the only active partner in adversity through the decade-long Soviet invasion and occupation and thereafter until now. Pakistan shared with Afghanistan the costs of its horrific civil war to incur the odium of a proto-terrorist state. It can ill-afford to allow history to repeat itself at the cost of its internal security – even perhaps its' very existence as a civilised country in tune with times.
The President, General Musharraf's one constant concern and call remains for the establishment of an ethnically-balanced, popular and Pakistan-friendly government in Kabul. This is how it must be; for anything else would, inevitably suck Pakistan once again into the Afghan imbroglio even against the best of our efforts and will.

Pak-Afghan long and porous border, shared ethnic stocks, and religious bonds combine to form not only a geopolitical conundrum but also an all-pervasive predicament. To handle this effectively a judicious mix of a carefully measured aloofness and a thoughtfully calibrated concern in our dealings with the post-Taliban Afghanistan, would be essential.
For now, regardless of our deep concern with any future set up in Kabul, might it not be wiser to desist from talking about the kind of set up we would like to (and should) have in Kabul. Wouldn't that really amount to be perceived as interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan? None would be better-placed than Pakistan to realise the utter futility of such a manoeuvre and the risk and the cost attached to it.

What is to be clearly realised is the apparent futility of worrying, hoping or striving too much for the establishment of a broad-based, Pakistan-friendly government in Kabul. Where is the guarantee that a Pakistan-friendly government to begin with, might not over time turn into an unfriendly government and vice verse? Wouldn't just one example of the Rabbani government – a portage of Pakistan under the Peshawar Agreement of April 1992 – turning hostile – be enough to serve the points?
E-mail queries and comments to: arsiddiqi@nation.com.pk
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