The new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani seems to have taken a different approach to Afghanistan foreign policy. The challenge is to maintain a balance in ties with all regional and international players. Since becoming Afghanistan's President at the end of September, Ghani has visited Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan. Most recently, he also attended the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. In talks with foreign leaders during his official trips abroad, Ghani mainly focused on Afghan peace process, economic cooperation, regional security and geopolitics. President is scheduled to travel to London and Brussels shortly to rally global support for his country. But political fallout in Kabul has already begun as its been seen by many that Mr. Ghani at least in the matter of foreign policy has adopted a approach of “Fly Solo” as he is not consulting Dr Abdullah at all regarding formulation of foreign policy. It was clearly visible in his recent visit to Pakistan. Ghani deviated from the stultifying norms of established protocol by heading straight to the GHQ of Pakistan army for talks with the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif rather than first visiting the political leadership.
Before Afghan President Visit to Pakistan, NSA and advisor on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, chief of the army staff, General Raheel Sharif, and newly appointed ISI chief Rizwan Akhter, in quick succession, visited Kabul to pave a way for the successful visit of Afghan president. Much before his visit to Islamabad, new Afghan president had indicated a reset in Afghanistan’s foreign policy Indian military footprint was not anymore welcome in Kabul which he later confirmed when he withdrew Afghanistan request for supply of military hardware by India. Kabul too seems to have convinced Pakistan that Afghanistan may move away from Indian orbit. Pakistan also assures that it will still pursue a process of reconciliation between Taliban and Kabul. But it also made it clear that without sharing power with Taliban peace in Afghanistan remains to be a far-fetched idea. This is the policy blunder done by Ghani as he shown to the world that Afghanistan for peace and stability depends on Pakistan and Afghan peace lies not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. Pakistan not only sheltered jihadist insurgents but also pressed Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line as the permanent border, make peace with the Taliban (on its/their terms) and tried to dictate Afghan foreign policy by telling it to curtail ties with India. It should be asked from our respected President that accepting any of this would not mean compromising Afghan sovereignty.
Some analysts argue that Ghani aims to use China's influence over Pakistan and, wants Beijing to raise pressure on Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. May be president received assurances from both his Chinese as well as Pakistani counterparts of their support for the Afghan peace process. During his time in office, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai failed to engage in any fruitful peace talks with the Taliban leadership, who are believed to have hideouts in Pakistan's border regions with Afghanistan. Although Karzai leaned on the US and Pakistani support in the peace process, he strictly insisted on an Afghan-led initiative which was a very legitimate demand. At the same time, Karzai who remained close to India during his presidency also tried not to compromise New Delhi's position in talks with the Taliban as this approach is also not right because in any peace talks first and foremost importance is Afghan national interest. Indian authorities have remained skeptical of the Taliban as they view the group as Pakistan's strategic bargaining chip in Afghanistan. But unlike Karzai, President Ghani seems to have a more China-centered foreign policy. Our leaders should understand that independent foreign policy is always in the national interest as during pre-war period of 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s we had independent and non-aligned foreign policy. This period of Afghanistan can be called as golden period as there was peace, development, and prosperity everywhere.
It’s a hard reality that Pakistan supports Taliban insurgency and uses it as a strategic tool to have influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan always wants that Afghanistan should be always weak and dependent on it as it knows very well that it can’t manipulate and use strong and stable Afghanistan. The US and NATO can leave the region but Afghanistan, its neighbors and regional countries do not have that luxury. The region has no appetite for Pakistan hewing to its fireman and arsonist policy in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s honeymoon period with the new Afghan government will be short. Foreign policy has not been clarified yet, and this issue existed in the past too rather than just pleasing Pakistani’s. The new government should set up its foreign policy regarding neighbouring countries, the region and the world. Our intellectual president should try to maintain a degree of balance in his foreign policy in a way that it satisfies all the players that have interests in the country. Failing to do so could lead to disastrous consequences like Afghanistan again becoming a failed state or sub-state which is open for everyone to operate and manipulate according to their vested interest.
(Author is an Afghan doctor currently living in Sydney, Australia can be reached at email@example.com)