Indo-Pak Relations and Regional Transitions

Afghanistan to remain a principal concern after 2014, say policy experts
ISLAMABAD, July 2, 2014: The unfolding security situation in Afghanistan was likely to remain a top concern for Pakistan and the region beyond 2014, said former US Ambassador and Jinnah Institute President Sherry Rehman at a closed-door roundtable discussion held at the Institute on Wednesday.

Speaking to British High Commissioner Philip Barton and a small group of policy experts and analysts invited to Jinnah Institute, the former US ambassador underscored the major policy shifts that had taken place in Pakistan under two civilian governments, and observed that while the security vacuum and subsequent economic crisis in Afghanistan was likely to affect Kabul’s relations with regional neighbours, Islamabad was clearly pursuing a policy of no-favourites in Afghanistan.

Participants stated that the existing electoral impasse in Afghanistan was a major cause for concern, which would not only allow anti-state actors to jockey for space but also delay the signing of a much needed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Little confidence was expressed in the ability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to face the challenge of the Taliban insurgency, although the efforts of the international community to train and equip the ANSF were recognized.

While reviewing recent developments in Indo-Pak relations, experts agreed that trade was one area where forward movement could be expected in months to come. It was stated that Pakistan’s major economic advantage lay in becoming a regional transit hub, however, some participants expressed the apprehension that trade was being demanded as a “deliverable” of improved relations with India rather than a dividend. It was suggested that Islamabad need not over-extend its peace initiative to New Delhi, as there was little reciprocity. It was further stated that progress on the Mumbai trials was likely to be slow given procedural complexities in the litigation, and that it was not possible to guarantee an outcome desired by Indian authorities.

While the two governments in Islamabad and New Delhi enjoyed unprecedented political space, experts around the table agreed that Pakistan’s security outlook had evolved considerably in recent years. Despite this change, however, it was noted that the Indo-Pak bilateral track continued to be characterized by strategic drift.

On the national security front, participants discussed the launch of the North Waziristan operation; recent developments including coordination between Kabul and Islamabad on fighting terrorism, and the government’s resolve to dismantle all sanctuaries on its side of the border were appreciated as formidable and critical steps. The success of the North Waziristan operation was seen to be vital for the future of regional stability. Participants stated that the political leadership should demonstrate greater ownership of the operation and fine-tune its public messaging to ensure internal cohesion and clarity of action while Pakistan weathered internal crises.

The policy roundtable was also attended by Ambassadors Aziz Ahmad Khan, Riaz Khokhar, Salman Bashir, General Mahmud Durrani, AVM Shahzad Chaudhry, Safiya Aftab, Salma Malik, Dr. Mooed Yusuf, Ahmer Bilal Soofi, Mosharraf Zaidi, and senior journalists Mariana Baabar and Zahid Hussain.