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Nuclear force reductions and modernizations continue

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All the nuclear weapon-possessing states are working to develop new nuclear weapon systems and/or upgrade their existing ones; and the number of personnel deployed with peace operations worldwide continues to fall while the number of peace operations increases. These are the two key findings of SIPRI Yearbook 2015, which assesses the current state of armaments, disarmament and international security.

World nuclear forces—reductions and modernization continue

At the start of 2015, nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea)—possessed approximately 15 850 nuclear weapons, of which 4300 were deployed with operational forces. Roughly 1800 of these weapons were kept in a state of high operational alert.

The total number of nuclear warheads in the world is declining, primarily due to the USA and Russia continuing to reduce their nuclear arsenals, albeit at slower pace compared with a decade ago. At the same time, both countries have extensive and expensive long-term modernization programmes under way for their remaining nuclear delivery systems, warheads and production.

The nuclear arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states are considerably smaller, but all are either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so. In the case of China, this may involve a modest increase in the size of its nuclear arsenal. India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon production capabilities and developing new missile delivery systems. North Korea appears to be advancing its military nuclear programme, but its technical progress is difficult to assess based on open sources.

‘Despite renewed international interest in prioritizing nuclear disarmament, the modernization programmes under way in the nuclear weapon-possessing states suggests that none of them will give up their nuclear arsenals in the foreseeable future’, says SIPRI Senior Researcher Shannon Kile.

World nuclear forces, 2015

Country Deployed warheads* Other warheads Total 2015 Total 2014
USA 2080 5180 7260 7300
Russia 1780 5720 7500 8000
UK 150 65 215 225
France 290 10 300 300
China   260 260 250
India   90-110 90-110 90-110
Pakistan   100-120 100-120 100-120
Israel   80 80 80
North Korea     6-8 6-8
Total 4300 11545 15850 16350

Source: SIPRI Yearbook 2015

* “Deployed” means warheads placed on missiles or located on bases with operational forces.

Peace operations increase while personnel numbers drop

There were 62 peace operations in 2014, a rise of 3 over the previous year. The number of deployed personnel in all peace operations, including the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, fell by 20 per cent to 162 052. The closure of ISAF was a defining moment for 2014 and influenced many of the year’s peace operation-related figures.

As a consequence of ISAF’s drawdown, Africa became an even greater focus of peace operations: it is the continent with the largest number of such operations and hosts more personnel than all the other regions combined. Seven new peace operations were launched in 2014 and four of them were in Africa. The three new missions outside Africa were all established in response to the conflict in Ukraine.

‘Despite all of the criticism and pessimism, peace operations are remarkably successful. The international community increasingly invests in them because, in many conflicts, they remain the best crisis management instrument available’ said Head of SIPRI’s peace operations research team Dr Jair van der Lijn.

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Defense

UK–Russia Security Dialogue. European Security

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Photo:Emily Wang/Unsplash

Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Malcolm Chalmers*

This conference report outlines the main findings of the workshop on ‘European Security’ organised by RUSI and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in February 2021 as part of the UK–Russia Security Dialogue. The dialogue is a proven format that has provided an opportunity for RUSI and RIAC to bring together experts from the two countries to discuss key questions, including sensitive security issues, at a time when this kind of interaction is the exception rather than the rule.

UK–Russia relations have become increasingly strained over the past decade, notably from 2014 following Russia’s actions in Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, which together marked a turning point in the bilateral relationship. In the subsequent years, there have been a series of efforts by Western European leaders, including from the UK, to reset relations with Russia. Despite these efforts, relations have continued to deteriorate. Against this background, the prospect for a reset of the sort that was pursued between the US and Russia in 2009 seems, at present, dim.

Given this environment, the focus of the current dialogue workshop was on how to reduce the chances for open military confrontation between NATO and Russia, especially in Europe, and on maintaining mutual engagement in the spheres where it is absolutely crucial.

The UK’s position in Europe has undergone significant evolution in recent years, although European security remains a core focus in the ‘Global Britain’ agenda. Previously preoccupied with Brexit, the UK government has started to move beyond negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU to fashion a revised foreign and security policy. Even though EU–UK relations might remain tense for some time, it is clear that the UK is committed to working closely with both the EU and major European powers on foreign and security policy. Equally, the transatlantic relationship will remain a core part of the UK approach to European security. As a result, UK approaches to Russia will be closely aligned with its European and North American allies.

Indeed, in contrast to the apprehension about the reliability of the US as a security partner under Donald Trump, cooperation with President Joe Biden’s administration is likely to give a new momentum to transatlantic ties. These ties are based on mutual interests and reflect largely similar approaches to Russia. Following Brexit, the UK has ensured that sanctions relating to Russia continue to operate effectively by replacing the existing EU legislation with national measures.

For Russia, it is of paramount importance which mode of interaction the Biden administration will opt for in relations with Moscow. President Biden might be a more difficult partner, but the Russian view is that opportunities for some positive moves by NATO should not be ruled out. The integration of military-to-military contact into the political discussions of the NATO–Russia Council could be an important initial step to help promote stability and manage relations. From a Russian perspective, such a move should not be seen by the Alliance as a step to appease Russia or as a departure from NATO’s established approach, but rather as a step that would lay the ground for more dialogue.

Moderate optimism can be expressed about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) regarding measures to overcome its institutional crisis and Sweden’s chairmanship in 2021, which may bring new opportunities. Russia chairing the Arctic Council from 2021 to 2023 provides a further opportunity to open the space for cooperation in some areas that affect the security situation in the High North.

With UK–Russia relations likely to be difficult, it is imperative that efforts remain focused on the realistic goal of developing a ‘new normalcy’ to stabilise the situation. Moves from confrontation to cooperation are unlikely given that both sides have irreconcilable visions of the essence of the international system and cite the lack of trust as an underlying impediment to normalisation. In this situation, it is important that efforts to exchange information and views continue and that there is further work on confidence-building measures to manage confrontation to lower risks and costs.

Summary of the Discussion

This UK–Russia dialogue workshop explored the various political and security issues affecting the contemporary European security landscape and provided an opportunity to share threat perceptions and consider the potential to mitigate security risks. The participants presented their countries’ strategic priorities and perspectives on the evolving nature of European security, including the prospects for arms control. The workshop also introduced the sub-regional perspective by focusing on the security complex in the Baltic Sea, Northern Europe and the Arctic.

The discussion focused on: the challenges that the European regional security order faces; the dangers stemming from its fragmentation; the erosion of much of the post-Cold War arms control regime; and the ebbing of the credibility of the OSCE, which faced a deep institutional crisis in 2020.

UK–Russia Relations

UK contributors noted that there have been a number of factors that have strained the UK–Russia relationship, such as the Russian annexation of Crimea and the military incursion into eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russian interference during the 2016 Brexit referendum, the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko on UK soil in 2006, the 2018 Salisbury chemical weapons attack and the attempted murder of Alexei Navalny in 2020. Some of these actions have led to the introduction of UK sanctions against Russia. Against this backdrop, the resumption of cooperative ties between the governments does not look feasible and the restoration of direct military cooperation is unlikely.

Citing this environment, the overarching idea of the discussion shared by most participants was that the status quo in relations between Russia and the UK – a ‘new normalcy’ – is not desirable but sustainable, is ‘not acceptable but bearable’. This perception about the potential for relations is likely to continue to inform the policy responses by both sides in the foreseeable future. Participants noted that the current state of affairs appears to be characterised by a situation in which both parties have reciprocal expectations that the steps towards normalisation need to come from the other side.

At the same time, participants underlined the importance of measures to reduce the chances of open confrontation. A key theme to emerge from the discussion was, thus, the need to maintain engagement in the spheres where it is most crucial.

A Russian participant expressed his concern that the decision taken by NATO in April 2014 to sever ties with Russia had grave repercussions in terms of increasing the risks of unintended military escalation. In the absence of an appropriate venue for discussions, many in the Russian expert community would like to see the governments of Russia and NATO countries start to discuss imminent threats in order to anticipate areas of tension and to set in place the means to de-escalate confrontations.

It was recognised that, at present, communication tends to start only when the risks become unacceptable, like in Syria. With important, but narrow, mechanisms for preventing dangerous military incidents already in place, there is no incentive to conduct political talks on the factors that could lead to confrontation.

It was noted that a key role for expert discussions such as the UK–Russia dialogue should be to alert governments to the possibility that ‘acceptable risks today can become unacceptable tomorrow’. The prevention of tensions or even resolution of some areas of dispute is thus crucial to managing the current difficult relations and avoiding a further dangerous deterioration. A Russian participant noted, however, that the West seems not to be ready for a selective approach to Russia which would allow for the compartmentalisation of the bilateral agenda into independent areas.

UK participants observed that while relations with Russia are difficult, the current status quo is viewed as sustainable and there are many other issues on the international security agenda for the UK to focus on beyond relations with Russia. At the same time, it was noted that if Russia does not shift its approach in the coming years, which was deemed unlikely, the transatlantic community will increasingly focus on deterrence and risk management in their relations with Russia.

It was noted that following a series of unsuccessful outreaches to Russia by NATO members, the Allies do not feel they should be the demandeurs in terms of the reset with Russia or for arms control initiatives. A UK participant observed that recent efforts by Western European states to reach out to Russia, including President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative and the visit to Moscow by EU High Representative Josep Borrell, bore no fruit and did not generate a positive response from the Russian side.

Thus, for any reset to occur, it was suggested that Russia would have to take the first steps. This would need to involve addressing the issues that have strained relations between Russia and the West, notably the annexation of Crimea, military intervention in Ukraine and actions in the Middle East, as well as Russian activities in the cyber domain. At the same time, the widespread view in the UK is that the Russian government does not believe that it is currently in its interests to make substantial concessions in relation to eastern Ukraine, over the joint management of the Syrian issue or in regard to its cyber activities.

The Challenges Facing Arms Control in Europe

The significant risks for a new arms race emerging in Europe were discussed at length. Participants were sceptical about the prospects of another golden age for arms control emerging, comparable to the one in the 1960s after the Cuban and Berlin crises, or in the late 1980s when the Soviet Union sought a radical change in its policies towards NATO and the West. Conventional arms control in Europe – based on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the Vienna Document and the Open Skies Treaty – is in demise and the existing regimes are no longer considered adequate to address contemporary security threats.

There was consensus that the erosion of the nuclear arms control architecture between the US and Russia poses a serious threat to European security, even if the UK and other European states are not direct participants in US–Russia treaties. Following the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the extension at the beginning of 2021 of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between Moscow and Washington was met with relief. This positive step to renew the last remaining arms control agreement was hailed by Russian and UK participants, albeit a deal reached in an emergency rather than as a result of a wide r détente.

The collapse in recent years of the last remaining confidence- and security-building measures in Europe was noted as emblematic of the rapid deterioration of Russia–West relations. The US under the Trump administration withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty in November 2020, accusing Russia of treaty violations that made continued US membership impossible. In January 2021, Moscow announced it would follow the US and withdraw from the Treaty, citing the failure of NATO signatories to agree to its demands not to share information from the Russian surveillance flights with the US.

Though the future of the agreement remains uncertain, a Russian expert welcomed the possibility of the Biden administration returning the US to the Treaty. It was opined that Russia actually launched the withdrawal procedure to send the signal to the US that renewing its participation should be considered an urgent matter.

Workshop participants indicated that it is unlikely that there will be progress towards Europe-wide conventional arms control, along the lines of the adapted CFE treaty, in the foreseeable future. Russian participants expressed support for consultations to address the risks around sensitive areas where NATO and Russia border with each other – in the Baltic and the Black Sea regions. The aim should be to, at minimum, establish the sub-regional arrangements that could prevent unintended security escalations.

It was also noted that it should be a priority to extend confidence-building measures into the Barents and Norwegian Seas, which are the overlapping areas of operations by the Russian Northern Fleet and the recently re-established US Second Fleet. Participants recognised, however, that NATO did not accept the idea of concluding separate sub-regional agreements with Russia. One of the benefits of re-establishing NATO–Russia military-to-military dialogue was identified as providing a more credible notification arrangement on ground forces and, thus, a means to improve transparency and trust.

On the arms control regime in Europe, Russian participants indicated that Moscow would welcome European initiatives on arms control mechanisms but noted that Russia assessed that European capitals are wary of Washington’s reactions to such initiatives and oversensitive to potential criticism.

At the same time, the Russian perception of Europe as lacking strategic autonomy on security issues loomed in the discussions when a Russian discussant expressed the belief that for the Russian defence establishment, talking to Europeans about arms control when the US is not at the table has no practical sense.

The fate of the Chemical Weapons Convention was discussed. A UK participant raised the issue of the large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria, where Russia is supporting the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. The use of banned chemical agents for attempted assassinations was also noted. These actions were identified as policies that seriously erode trust in Russia’s commitment to adhere to legally binding treaties.

Against the background of the chemical weapons attacks in Salisbury in 2018 and the attempted poisoning of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020 using a prohibited nerve agent, restoring the credibility of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Russia’s adherence to its provisions were seen as a cornerstone for improving relations with the West.

The deterioration of arms control arrangements was seen as reflective of the wider breakdown of the crisis management functions of the OSCE. Experts agreed that there were some improvements at the end of 2020 with agreement on the appointment of the organisation’s institutional heads and with the stable hand of the Swedish chairmanship guiding this process. But the continuous tensions around these institutions, which embody the comprehensive security concept at the core of the OSCE, and the lack of significant progress around the organisation’s regional conflict management activities, were raised. The limited levers available to the OSCE during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war were also highlighted.

A Russian expert opined that Moscow does not see a bigger independent role for the OSCE in crisis management and arms control, since it views the organisation as an instrument that has been privatised by the West. The Russia–NATO relationship was identified as a better-placed format to discuss arms control issues.

Perspectives on the Security of Northern Europe

In the session devoted to discussing Northern Europe and the Arctic, the Baltic sub-region was identified as the most dangerous environment. At the same time, the Arctic can no longer be considered as a region insulated from tensions. The vision of the Arctic as a region of peace and cooperation may no longer hold true as the security mechanisms of the past are losing their relevance.

The discussion highlighted differences in perceptions between UK and Russian specialists on the military dynamics in the region. Russia sees Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea as two distinct regions, while the UK – together with the other states of Northern Europe – increasingly see these areas as a single security space.

A Russian participant contended that assessments that Moscow is militarising the region are exaggerated; there is force modernisation, rather than the creation of new offensive capabilities. These modernisation programmes, it was argued, do not violate the military balance or provoke an arms race in the region, and are aimed to make the Russian armed forces better prepared to deal with non-traditional security threats.

A British discussant noted, however, that Russia’s increased sense of security is creating a growing sense of insecurity among its neighbours. Russia has extended its capabilities in air defence and other areas beyond its borders in order to protect its strategic forces located in the north. With new capabilities, it is able to project power beyond the Arctic into the North Atlantic.

As a result of Russian activities in the region, the transatlantic community assesses that the security environment has changed substantively. NATO, including the UK, has developed a much keener interest in the region, and NATO Arctic states that were previously resistant to the Alliance having a regional role are shifting to accept that it can be an interlocutor on Arctic military questions. There is a perception that there needs to be an Alliance response to Russian activities with a growing focus on the Greenland–Iceland–UK gap.

With new actors, including China, coming into the region, Russia is on the defensive. Responding to a question about whether Russia is prepared to talk to NATO about the Arctic and managing military tensions, it was noted that Russia is opposed to seeing more NATO engagement in the region, and security dialogue should be conducted among the five littoral states directly.

Conclusions

The workshop highlighted the importance of maintaining a channel for candid talks between Russia and the UK’s expert communities. There were a number of areas of consensus, in the sense that both sides recognised the need to maintain a dialogue without illusions in order to, at minimum, better understand each other’s perspective and positions. Participants agreed that the UK and Russia should be aware of the real potential risks of any further deterioration in European security at the cost of an arms race, or even unwanted confrontation. Dialogue participants also highlighted that, despite the bilateral difficulties, there are ways that both parties can manage the risks of the ‘new normal’ situation. There is, thus, an urgent need to explore how this can be achieved effectively.

A realistic assessment of UK–Russia relations points to the need for both sides to recognise that the focus of bilateral ties should be on developing pragmatic and limited areas of cooperation. Discussion of a wholesale reset, which is not feasible at present, should be avoided. Some of those pragmatic areas could be talks about how to make progress on arms control, ways to strengthen military-to-military contacts, and maintaining the discussions on threat perceptions and regional security.

*Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

From our partner RIAC

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Comparative analyses of Satellites Indian Navy in IOR: Options for Pakistan

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After a glaring failure in November 2008, a series of attacks happened in Mumbai, which Indian civilian and military leadership considered it a security breach from the Indian Ocean side as terrorists entered into the homeland due to poorly guarded coastal area by the Indian Navy at Kerala. It was envisioned by Indian defense minister AK. Antony.  Indian Navy’s surveillance in coastal areas. For more than 12 years from now, the Indian Navy planned to create and sustain three-dimensional forces under the realm of network-centric warfare where every component system should work under the integrated command, control, and communication systems C3S. Firstly, India Nuclearized the Indian Ocean Region now, it is going to integrate space capabilities with its modernized and enhanced communications of surface, and subsurface fleets. Additionally, to boost the strike capability of the Indian Navy to fill the security gaps in Indian Naval forces, Indian civil and military leadership especially stepped up themselves to enhance and advance India’s Armed forces to counter extraneous threats.

Furthermore, the Indian Navy is investing a huge bulk of the financial budget in acquiring satellite capabilities to improve and enhance surveillance and targeting capability. India’s ISRO (Indian Space Organization) is currently operating thirteen observational satellites in the LEO (low earth Orbit for communication and observation. But now India is transforming its purposes of satellites from non-military to military. Indian Navy is forwarding toward a “skyward strategy” of using four of its operational satellites for navigation, communication, targeting, surveillance, use of precision-guided missiles, and data collection in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

According to a report of Indian Think Tank ‘Institute of Peace Conflict Studies’ New Delhi, the Indian Navy is going to transform the use of some satellites in the maritime domain.  Indian navy would use Meteorological Satellites which are used for predicting weather while now it would be used to create fair weather for the launching of lethal precision-guided missiles and weapons. Secondly, IN would use the Electronic Ferret satellite for gathering data in IOR.  Thirdly, Navigation satellites would be used for guiding lethal weapons and to select target location. Fourth, Reconnaissance satellites would be used to link up for the effective use of naval information Technology.

Recent Development of Spy Satellites in Maritime Domain Awareness:

Indian Navy launched the Rukmini GSAT-7 spy satellite to secure real-time communication in its command, control, communications, and intelligence surveillance C4ISR for submarines,k warships, and carriers. It cost approximately 486 crores. GSAT-7 with its Multi-band land-based communication satellite would pose adverse effects for the stability of IOR. It would have 600 to 1000 Nautical miles of footprint in IOR. It is designed, developed, and launched by ISRO.

Moreover, the Indian Navy has acquired another satellite named RISAT-II to maintain a check on the deployment of troops which has cost US$4.1 billion. DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organization) with cooperation from ISRO would design the satellite.

The aforementioned, satellites would provide digital tactical battlespace.

Options for Pakistan Navy:

Pakistan Navy as being a peacekeeper and coastal navy is playing proactively in maintaining peace and balance in IOR. Pakistan Navy has diversified options to use space capabilities to protect its maritime interest in the Arabian Sea and the IOR. Pakistan Navy has the motto of protecting the maritime interests of Pakistan, to promote trade at sea, participating actively in international effort to maintain peace and good order at sea. Pakistan Navy despite having challenges in the acquisition of the latest technology but is doing very well at sea and achieved success in deterring aggression from its potential adversary.  As a contextual reflection, Pakistan space agency SUPARCO (Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission) under the umbrella of Strategic Planning Division (SPD) which is operating arms of National Command and Authority (NCA) Launched Badr-I, and Badr-II on July 16, 1990, and in December 2001 respectively via foreign launched platforms. Badr-I and Badr-II have capabilities like C4ISR in wide range communication. Under the flagship project CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) Pakistan has signed a historic agreement to launch and develop the satellite to monitor the CPEC project from Space.

Furthermore, Pakistan Navy can also take advantage of its satellites named PRSS-I (Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite-I) and PRSS-IA both were launched by Long March SLV in July 2018. PRSS-IA is an indigenous space satellite of Pakistan. Pakistan Space program is the game changer program for Pakistan when it comes to maritime interests. Pakistan has switched its GPS (Global Positioning System) from the United States of America to the Chinese BeiDou system. PRSS-I and PRSS-IA show Pakistan’s vision of 2047 8nder which Pakistan will pursue an integrated command and control system. After the recent clash at Gallawan Valley, Pak-Sino Space Cooperation could be very beneficial as India is modernizing naval capabilities to threaten Pakistan and China.

In summary, Pakistan has always enjoyed a great history of collaboration among its armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force). Pakistan can easily counter India’s malicious geopolitical interests in IOR through Pakistan Navy via Space platform. Pakistan Navy is also using an integrated surface and subsurface network-centric system but it is also moving forward to modernize and enhance its strike precision capability.  Realistically, the Indian Navy is pursuing lethal weaponry and the nucleation of IOR along with conventional naval buildup is alarming for neighborhood states located under the geographical proximity of IOR. Pakistan Navy as a coastal Navy is doing its best to counter every aggression of the Indian Navy. For the future, Pakistan Navy needs to be very cautious while taking steps to counter the Indian Navy.

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US military withdrawal from Afghanistan: Implications for Pakistan

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Afghanistan has for a greater part of her history seen conflict of various types and magnitudes. From warring warlords fighting to gain dominance, to foreign intervention bent on achieving their political objectives. The people of Afghanistan divided along the lines of ethnicity, class and sect have witnessed great suffering and loss of precious lives. The United States, the latest entrant in Afghanistan sought to gain its political and strategic objectives primarily through the use of military power. The United States had led successful and devastating campaigns in Iraq in which the technological and military dominance was one of the deciding factors which lead to the end of the Saddam regime. Seeking to implement a similar model and to establish a US friendly regime the United States faced stiff resistance at the hands of the Afghan Taliban. Guerilla fighting techniques combined with the harsh mountainous terrain, made it difficult for a land army to establish its dominance in the afghan regions.

Today after having stayed in Afghanistan for almost two decades the United States under the current administration of President Joe Biden now seeks to end the “forever wars”. This deal signed by major stakeholders concluded into a complete US withdrawal from the region where in the people of Afghanistan would be free to choose a path for their future. While this paints a rosy picture on the Afghan situation, it’s important to study the implications of a complete US withdrawal on the people of Afghanistan and for its neighboring country Pakistan. President Joe Biden has selected September 11 of this year to be the date in which US troops completely withdraw from Afghanistan. The withdrawal would effectively end US presence in Afghanistan under the agreed terms and would thus leave the country to charter its own political course. It is now possible to suggest that the Afghan Taliban would push for its demands establishing an Islamic Emirate, a return to its form of Islamic governance. Despite being in the corner the government being the major political force has continued to negotiate with the Taliban in order to reach a consensus on important issues underlined in the original agreement.

The Afghan Taliban has for long demanded a complete withdrawal of US troops and to establish an Islamic Emirate. Within Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban has continued to rage a bloody campaign consisting of attacks on civilians and government officials. With their strong religious ideology the Taliban continue to draw popular support from the people despite their repeated attacks. The Afghan government already weakened by repeated assaults, combined with a poor governance structure faces a threat of a possible ouster from power after the US withdrawal.  A possible Afghan Taliban led government after the US withdrawal could see a revert to the previous government system lead by the Taliban. Foreign countries, including Pakistan have expressed fear of a possible civil war after a US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Within Afghanistan, tribal warlords have continued to fight for influence and dominance in their respective regions. Afghan history is telling in this regard as without threat of invasion from an external enemy, the warring factions have been involved in bitter conflicts resulting in instability throughout the provinces. Today despite being the largest faction, the Taliban is not a uniform organization with many joined through coalitions or through defeats. Largely consisting of ethnic Pashtuns, the rise of the Taliban would be seen as a threat to ethnic minorities who may resort to militancy in resistance to a Taliban led government or coalition.

Pakistan has maintained its stance of being a principal stake holder in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan. The two neighbors despite sharing strong common bonds of religion, culture and ethnicities have had a turbulent relationship since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Both countries have expressed concerns of terror groups operating through their respective territories with the aim of destabilizing governments and to inflict political, economic and social instability through “state sponsored proxies”. For Pakistan the Afghan peace process is critical in order to achieve peace and stability in its troubled provinces of Baluchistan and regions which were part of former FATA.The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a vital link which has been consistently targeted by militants operating from across the western border. In recent trips made by the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister to Kabul both stressed the need for pursuing peace through dialogue and negotiations and that for Pakistan the “stakes are very high”. With threat of a possible civil war after a US withdrawal, it’s important that Pakistan continues to push for a peaceful resolution through its influence within the Afghan Taliban leadership circle.

The situation in Afghanistan has never been in such a crucial stage. The US withdrawal on September 11 this year which if followed through would end a bloody chapter in the history of Afghanistan. The effect both short and long term of this withdrawal would have implications on the people of Afghanistan and the region as well. For Pakistan, the stakes have never been higher with Pakistan hoping and participating in helping to achieve a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. It is important for Pakistan as a peace on its Western borders would go a long way in aiding Pakistan in its battle against militancy and extremism. With constant fears of the country falling into civil war, its important for Pakistan to play its role in ensuring that such a situation which is detrimental to both countries never takes place. A pro-active foreign policy approach and by providing platforms of negotiations would help in enabling an environment where a peaceful resolution can be achieved without conflict erupting. Peace in Afghanistan is long overdue and it’s up to the stake holders to decide the future course for the country.

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