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Tashkent Declaration 2: Phony Peace Harbinger for Afghanistan?

Dr. Bawa Singh

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Could Tashkent be as a city of peacemaking for Afghanistan as it did in case of Indo-Pak (1965 War)? The First Tashkent Declaration was a peace agreement signed between India and Pakistan on 10 January 1966 to resolve the Indo-Pak War (1965). Now, the war theatre has changed to Afghanistan Conflict (2001-18), may be called Af-Pak. Why Af-Pak, as Pakistan conceives Afghanistan its strategic backyard vis-à-vis India and vice-versa Afghanistan alleges Pakistan for providing safe sanctuaries to Taliban and Al-Qaeda, operating from its territory. Realizing the security concerns spillover across the border, Uzbekistan has reoriented its foreign policy towards Afghanistan particularly under its ‘Neighborhood First’ policy. Therefore,  once again Tashkent has become witness to the peacemaking process of Afghanistan under the banner of an international conference, more precisely Tashkent Declaration2 (26-27 March 2018).

For establishing peace in Afghanistan, several peacemaking mechanisms like Kabul Process, the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) have been put in place. Now, the question is, how Uzbekistan can play an important role in Afghanistan peace-making? Could the Tashkent Declaration 2 could become a peace harbinger for Afghanistan?  Despite sharing long historical, civilizational relations and plus collective long border (2190 km) after Pakistan (2430 km), Afghanistan has not been figured prominently in Central Asia’s regional diplomacy radar as it had not played any important role in the conflict resolution of the former. The diplomatic relations (1991) between Tashkent and Kabul had been enervated after taking over the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has become turbulent given the sectarian fighting and involvement of external actors and hence, it had become major security concerns for the neighboring countries including Uzbekistan. The Tajik Civil War (1992-1997) had multiplied the security concerns of  Uzbekistan. Therefore, in anticipation of more security concerns across the border, the “Friendship Bridge” between Tashkent and Kabul was closed (24 May 1997). In this background, however, Uzbekistan had maintained the enervated political and strategic engagements with Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding its passive foreign policy towards the neighbouring countries including Afghanistan, keeping the security concerns in view, Uzbekistan has taken the step like an establishment of “Six Plus Two Group on Afghanistan,” (1997). Tashkent has signed several agreements including the transit, road construction, electricity, agriculture, security etc. with Afghanistan. On the other hand, it had also extended strategic cooperation with the global players engaged in peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping for Afghanistan. The first step in this direction on part of Uzbekistan was to reopen the Friendship Bridge (2002). Secondly, it had provided an airbase Karshi-Khanabad and Termez for the US and Germany respectively to assist the ISAF to fight against the terrorism. It had also allowed the passage for supply lines of the Northern Distribution Network.

Aftermath of the changing political regime in Uzbekistan, a paradigmatic shift has taken place in its foreign policy. When Uzbekistan President Mirziyoyev came to power (2016), he had reoriented his foreign policy. With his neighbourhood first policy, he made Central Asia including Afghanistan as a top priority agenda of his foreign policy. The President had hosted the first round of political consultations of the foreign ministers of both the countries (January 2017) for extending cooperation in respect of Afghanistan peace process. For the further improvement of relations with Afghanistan, the Special Representative of the Uzbek President for Afghanistan has been appointed.

Tashkent Declaration 2

Hosting the International Conference for Afghan peacemaking process validates its the Neighbourhood First policy of Uzbekistan.  The theme of the conference hosted by Tashkent, ‘Peace Process, Security Cooperation and Regional Connectivity’ on Afghanistan is a major question for the strategic commentators. How much part of the theme may be converted into reality? In this conference,  about 20 countries had participated in the peacemaking process. Despite the absence of Taliban in this meeting,  Uzbekistan and  Afghanistan have been hoping to strengthen the regional cooperation and consensus to end the two decades long Afghanistan ethnic conflict. While speaking in the conference, Uzbek President Mirziyoyev said, “Our country has been an active party to almost all the international forums including the Kabul Process, the Moscow Format, the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, the International Contact Group on Afghanistan, the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) to address the Afghan crisis.”

The Tashkent Declaration had emphasized on the peace process, which is ought to be Afghan led and Afghan built. Moreover, it should be as per the peacemaking resolutions and decisions of the regional and internal organizations including UN General Assembly and Security Council. It has also urged Afghanistan government to ensure guaranteed integration of the armed opposition group into the political life of the country. The group should be acknowledged and recognized as a legitimate political force in order to ensure its instrumental role in the establishment of peace. The participating members have strongly opposed all the forms and manifestations of terrorism without any distinctions. The members have also recognized the threats like transnational terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime as common challenges to stability and sustainable development not only of Afghanistan, rather of the region and the whole world at large. It is believed that the conference will go in a long way to contribute to Afghanistan’s successful integration into the system of trade, economic and infrastructural relations with the states of Central Asia, the effective implementation of projects and programmes of regional scale.

Tashkent Declaration 2: Could Be A Phony Peace Harbinger?

Despite several peacemaking, peacebuilding and even peacekeeping mechanisms have been put in place, the peace has remained a  distant dream. Since 2010, Afghanistan has been making several efforts and even offered several proposals to the Taliban, but it has remained crystal clear the latter had never come forwarded or shown any inclination towards talks with Afghan authorities. Even recently, Afghanistan President extended an offer to Taliban to open an office in Afghanistan to manage their talk, as well as the group, will be conceived as a political force. The hopes of talk on part of Afghanistan dashed to the ground when the Taliban clearly said no chance of talks with the Afghan government, rather expressed desire to talk only to the US officials, believing that the latter could help to end the protracted Afghan War. The report of DW (German Broadcaster) has anticipated the peace offering can be met with concerns and skepticism by the former Afghan Northern Alliance, which had played a key role in outfoxing the Taliban regime from Afghanistan.

Another knee-jerk setback to the peace process initiated by Uzbekistan was General Nicholson’s an exclusive interview with the BBC, wherein he alleged Russia’s involvement in derailing the peace process of Afghanistan. He called Russia’s role in Afghanistan as  a  “destabilizing activity.” Even he alleged that the Russian weapons are being smuggled to the Taliban.

The major challenge of the Afghan peacemaking is the geopolitical perspective. One Indian scholar has pointed out in his argument that the US has its geopolitical goal by engineering the peace process by Uzbekistan. Firstly, it will open the gateway for Afghanistan to the new world market. Moreover, by making an alliance between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan,  the access route/s through Central Asia would be available apart from lessening the former ’s dependence on Russia, Pakistan, and Iran. Secondly, it will revamp the Northern Distribution Network to supply the US-NATO bases in Afghanistan, by sidelining Russia and Pakistan. Thirdly, the US would become successful in outfoxing the great game actors like China and Russia from Central Asia. By the Tashkent Process, the US anticipated that China’s recent moves on Afghanistan could be weakened Chinese initiatives like China-Afghanistan-Pakistan (Foreign-minister level forum), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (working group with Afghanistan) and, most important, to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor into Afghanistan integrating that country with the Belt and Road Initiative.

The  Operation Enduring Freedom had launched by the Bush regime (2001), which has three major objectives like to root out the terrorist, to capture of Osama bin Laden, and the cessation of terrorist activities in Afghanistan, which are major threats not only to Afghanistan, rather the entire humanity at large. Notwithstanding the 1.5 lac boots on Afghanistan land and several peacemaking and peacebuilding mechanism in place, peace has remained a distant dream for Afghanistan. Whereas on the other hand, terrorist attacks have been increased exponentially. As per the  Annual Report of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), during 2017,  the killings (3,438), injured (7,015) and about civilian casualties (10,453) have taken place. The new South Asian Policy of the Trump regime has also been failed to show any positive sign in the Afghan security situation.

Conclusion

Tashkent has a past record of peacemaking for the countries such as of India and Pakistan (1966). Currently, it has taken a few steps for peacemaking for Afghanistan conflict including the International Conference (26-27 March 2018). Tashkent Declaration strongly advocated for the peace process which is led and built by the Afghans. It had suggested the guaranteed integration of the armed opposition into the Afghanistan political life. It had gone to the extent of suggesting that the same may be recognized as a legitimate political force for the success of the peace process. The main focus of the declaration was also to register strong opposition to all forms and manifestations of terrorism.

Notwithstanding the several peacemaking initiatives, the socio-economic challenges, ethnosectarian disputes, organized crimes and criminality, killing of soldiers and civilians, attacks of green over blue, exponentially growing rate of desertion among the Afghan soldiers, increasing control over geographical covers of  the non-state actors, and absence of peace are some of the existential threats, which have multiplied during the last two decades for Afghanistan. Even the latest meeting of the senior officials (The Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, 19 April 2018) took, wherein a  delegation of the Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry had participated. In this meeting, again the participant countries had ruminated over the issues like security and the regional economic cooperation in general and the strengthening the confidence-building measures were in particular, for the stabilization and socio-economic recovery of Afghanistan.

Until geopolitics and mediation of third parties prevail, Tashkent Conference’s lofty and idealistic goals such as ‘peace, security, and regional connectivity’ would be like castles in the air. The people and politics of Afghans have to be wise enough to understand the great game led by external players, otherwise,  Tashkent Declaration could be a phony peacemaking process. Had these goals become part of Afghan people’s lives!!

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Pakistan: A New Space Era

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Pakistan’s fragile economy and resource restraints are the main hurdles in the way of technological development, especially in space affairs. Therefore, it is so obvious that Pakistan governments’ priorities were off the beam in term of emphasis on space technology. Notwithstanding, Pakistan has taken a small step by launching two indigenously manufactured satellites, Remote Sensing Satellite-1 (PRSS-1) and Pakistan Technology Evaluation Satellite-1A (PakTES-1A) into orbit using a Chinese launch vehicle.

PRSS-1 is an earth observational and optical satellite, which will allow SUPARCO to analyze its imagery requirements in terms of land mapping, agriculture classification and assessment, urban and rural planning, environmental monitoring, natural disaster management and water resource management for the socio-economic development of the country. After the launch, Pakistan has joined the elite club to have its own remote sensing satellite in orbit.

Pakistan is an active participant of international cooperation of Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO). The APSCO is an inter-governmental institute functioned as a non-profit independent body with full international legal status. Its Members include space agencies from Bangladesh, China, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey. The recent launch of satellites by Pakistan is an extension of support given by APSCO. Therefore, it is the conceding fact that after the successful launches of PRSS-1 and PakTES-1A projects, the space collaboration between Pakistan and China with respect to APSCO will be further strengthened.

The launch of two new satellites will facilitate SUPARCO in developing indigenous capabilities in space technology and promote space applications for socio-economic uplift of the country. Recently, an international conference on the Use of Space Technology for Water Management was hosted by the SUPARCO in March 2018. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW) – were jointly organizing the Conference. The conclusion of the conference was that there mote sensing satellite technology i.e. PRSS-1, have validated established competences in terms of water resource management.

Pakistan is rapidly becoming a water-stressed country and according to some estimates, it could face mass droughts by 2025. In this scenario, a remote sensing satellite will be very beneficial in accumulating the data for future plans to fight against this evolving threat. PRSS-1 will use remote sensing techniques to outline the surface water bodies, assess meteorological variables like temperature and precipitation, estimate hydrological state variables like soil moisture and land surface characteristics, and fluxes such as evapotranspiration will be compiled by scientific methods.

Pakistan along with other South Asian states is the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Satellite remote sensing is a useful scientific tool in understanding the climate system and its changes. The technologies and information related to space contribute a fundamental role in climate knowledge, science, monitoring and early warning. Space-based information can subsidize to calculations of the vulnerability of societies to climate change and can help monitor the efficiency of adaptation strategies.

Agriculture holds a great significance for Pakistan and being an agrarian economy, all institutions should be playing a positive role for consolidation in the agriculture sector. The professions related to agriculture i.e. farmers, agronomists, food manufacturers and agricultural policymakers can concurrently augment production and profitability by using space-based technology. The best apparatus to monitor and enhance agriculture development is a remote sensing satellite, which provides key data for monitoring soil, snow cover, drought and crop development. Remote sensing satellite can assess and record precipitation for farmers to assist them in scheduling the timing and amount of irrigation they will need for their crops. Precise data and examination can also benefit in forecasting a region’s agricultural output well in advance and can be critical in anticipating and mitigating the effects of food shortages and famines.

In this era of technological advancement, the Global community today faces a series of non-tradition threats such as climate change and the management of depleting natural resources. In the backdrop of emerging requirements of societal and economic development, geospatial technology is evolving as a top technological domain in the 21st century. The technologies related to earth observation and remote sensing techniques are getting growing interest from the academia, scientists, governments and industries. Pakistan is increasing its efforts in managing natural resources, enhance sustainable urban and territorial development initiatives, facilitate the conservation of forests and valuable biodiversity habitats. Space technologies must benefit all countries; therefore, the international community must support Pakistan to ensure the peaceful application of its space programme.

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South Asia

Pakistani elections spotlight the country’s contradictory policies

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A virulently anti-Shiite, Saudi-backed candidate for parliament in Pakistan’s July 25 election symbolizes the country’s effort to reconcile contradictory policy objectives in an all but impossible attempt to keep domestic forces and foreign allies happy.

Ramzan Mengal’s candidacy highlights Pakistan’s convoluted relationship to Islamic militants at a time that the country risks being blacklisted by an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog.

It also spotlights Pakistan’s tightrope act in balancing relations with Middle Eastern arch rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran while trying to ensure security for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), at US$50 billion plus the crown jewel of China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative and its single largest investment.

Finally, it puts on display risks involved in China’s backing of Pakistan’s selective support of militants as well as the Pakistani military’s strategy of trying to counter militancy by allowing some militants to enter the country’s mainstream politics.

An Islamic scholar, Mr. Mengal heads the Balochistan chapter of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ), a banned successor to Sipah-e-Sahaba, an earlier outlawed group responsible for the death of a large number of Shiites in the past three decades.

Pakistan last month removed Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the head of Ahl-e-Sunnat from the Pakistani terrorism list, at the very moment that it was agreeing with the Financial Action Task Fore (FATF) on a plan to strengthen the country’s anti-money laundering and terrorism finance regime that would keep it off the groups blacklist.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met with Mr. Ludhianvi in recent days.

Military support for the participation of militants in elections was “a combination of keeping control over important national matters like security, defense and foreign policy, but also giving these former militant groups that have served the state a route into the mainstream where their energies can be utilized,” a senior military official said.

Critics charge that integration is likely to fail. “Incorporating radical Islamist movements into formal political systems may have some benefits in theory… But the structural limitations in some Muslim countries with prominent radical groups make it unlikely that these groups will adopt such reforms, at least not anytime soon… While Islamabad wants to combat jihadist insurgents in Pakistan, it also wants to maintain influence over groups that are engaged in India and Afghanistan,” said Kamran Bokhari, a well-known scholar of violent extremism.

Citing the example of a militant Egyptian group that formed a political party to participate in elections, Mr. Bokhari argued that “though such groups remain opposed to democracy in theory, they are willing to participate in electoral politics to enhance their influence over the state. Extremist groups thus become incorporated into existing institutions and try to push radical changes from within the system.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mr. Mengal was uninhibited about his relationship with Pakistan’s security forces. “No restrictions at all. I have police security during the election campaign. When I take out a rally in my area, I telephone the police and am given guards for it.,” he said. Mr. Mengal said of the 100 ASWJ operatives arrested in the last two years only five or six remained behind bars.

A frequent suspect in the killings of Hazara Shiites in Balochistan, Mr. Mengal led crowds in chanting “Kafir, kafir, Shia kafir (Infidels, infidels, Shiites are infidels),” but is now more cautious not to violate Pakistani laws on hate speech.

Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights reported in May that 509 Hazaras had been killed since 2013.

Many of those killings are laid at the doorstep of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a violent group that split from Sipah/ASWJ but, according to a founding member of Sipah still has close ties to the mother organization. ASWJ denies that it is still linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi

Suicide bombers killed 129 people this month in an attack on a rally of the newly founded Balochistan Awami Party, widely seen as a military-backed group seeking to counter Baloch nationalists. The Islamic State as well as the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Mengal was the alleged conduit in the past two years for large amounts of Saudi money that poured into militant madrassas or religious seminaries that dot Balochistan, the Pakistani province of Balochistan.

The funds, despite the fact that it was not clear whether they were government or private monies, and if they were private whether the donations had been tacitly authorized, were widely seen as creating building blocks for a possible Saudi effort to destabilize Iran by fomenting ethnic unrest among the Baloch on the Iranian side of the Pakistani border.

A potential Saudi effort, possibly backed by the United States, would complicate an already difficult security situation in Balochistan, home to the port of Gwadar, which is a key node in China’s massive investment in Pakistan and has witnessed attacks on Chinese targets.

It would risk putting Saudi and Chinese interests at odds and upset Pakistan’s applecart, built on efforts to pacify Balochistan while not allowing its longstanding, close ties to the kingdom to strain relations with its Iranian neighbour.

The Pakistani military’s strategy of easing militants into the country’s mainstream politics is also not without risks for China that in contrast to its South Asian ally has adopted an iron fist in dealing with dissent of its own, particularly in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang where China has implemented extreme measures to counter Uyghur nationalism and militant Islam.

If successful, it would create an alternative approach to counterterrorism. If not, it would reflect poorly on China’s selective shielding from United Nations designation as a global terrorist of a prominent Pakistani militant, Masood Azhar, a fighter in Afghanistan and an Islamic scholar who is believed to have been responsible for a 2016 attack on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station.

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South Asia

Dilemma of Strengthening Democracy in Pakistan

Fateh Najeeb Bhatti

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No country can achieve political stability without the active coordination of different state institutions working within their own specified parameters. For a nation to keep moving smoothly on the road to prosperity and maintaining national cohesion, consensus among political forces and other stakeholders is mandatory. History of developed and successful democratic nations is evidence of such instances in which political stability came out as a result of collective national wisdom.

Talking about Pakistan’s political dilemma, a few things become very clear that certain impediments had always been there right from the emergence of Pakistan as an independent state. Due to the internal politics in the power corridors, Pakistan was unable to formulate its constitution till 1956. Soon after that, in 1958, as a consequence of a long spell of endless political differences of the politicians in power and related lack of efficiency in handling the government affairs, the very first Martial Law was imposed. As a result the country was ruled by the military General Ayub Khan, although in that period Pakistan was able to achieve high economic growth progress. Since then, Pakistan has faced four martial laws till date.

Apart from these military takeovers and running of the governments by the military leaders for almost thirty years at different times, the elected civilian governments have also ruled the country for about 40 years. It is a popular perception among the majority of masses that the politicians adopt malpractices like nepotism, aristocratic behavior, change of loyalties etc and do not run the government affairs efficiently, which motivates the military leaders to take over the affairs of the country. However, whatever the reason may be, there is no justification to not allow the democracy to strengthen its roots, as according to Pakistan’s founding fathers, Pakistan’s future lies only in the democracy.

Although not likeable, but perceivably different military leaders took over the governments based on certain grounds, propagated mainly due to the inability of the civilian leaders to govern the country efficiently and their attitude of encouraging corruption, thus, undermining Pakistan’s socioeconomic development and its foreign and defence policy objectives. For instance, in 1958, the politicians’ inability to govern the diverse two part country inevitably invited Ayub Khan to take over. Similarly, in 1969 when Ayub’s presidential democracy failed on some accounts he had to hand over the power to General Yahya Khan.

Again in 1977, when the opposition parties failed to admit the election results and Bhutto was unable to bring the opposing politicians to negotiation tables,  Zia-UL-Haq was motivated to take over, as some politicians, including late Air Marshall (R) Asghar Khan had advised General Zia to take over reins of the government. In 1999, when the then PM Nawaz Sharif sacked General Pervez while he was on the flight from Sri Lanka, back from his visit, in reaction, General Pervez Musharraf ordered a military takeover by alleging PM Nawaz Sharif that he had tried to hijack the PIA plane carrying General Pervez Mushrraf and many other passengers, by ordering that plane to land somewhere else instead of Karachi airport.

Although, elected civilian were governing the country since 2008, in view of various apprehensions the political atmosphere remained ripe with the news stories of the civil-military divide and possibilities of the military take over being there. This situation was there because on most of the national issues and defence and foreign matters both civilian and the military leadership did not seem to be on the same page. However, apprehensions about military’s alleged role in the politics are still there, despite the current Chief of the Army Staff’s negation stating that the military supports democracy in the country.

Broadly seeing through the efficiency of the civilian political leadership in strengthening democracy by cooperative politics and working on national issues with consensus, the civilian leaders are still not working as per the people’s aspirations. Many of our politicians are involved in corrupt practices. Those who declare themselves Mr. clean have not much reliable past. So far, they have not been able to prove through their efficiency that politicians can provide Pakistan with the best form of the government that can make Pakistan a welfare state providing equal opportunities to everybody. Although, it is not an excuse for military powers to intervene in politics. Hence the problem is that how this desired sustainable and durable system will come into Pakistan, because inefficiency and corrupt practices of the politicians still offer chances to the military leaders to take over the government in Pakistan.

It is also a historical fact that Pakistan, because of its ideological mythology and geographical proximity has always been a security state. It has yet to achieve the objective of a welfare state, which is a way to address the present internal and external issues of Pakistan.  Furthermore, the public perception of military institution is as a disciplined, honest and purely nationalistic institution, which majority of our politicians’ lack. The supremacy of civil institutions is alright, but to achieve it the political pundits in Pakistan has to prove themselves loyal, honest and men of words and actions. Also, both sides have to recognize each other’s constitutional role in true letter and spirit.

Neither military nor political leadership can handle the prevailing issues of Pakistan single handedly. The need of the hour is to cooperate with each other on domestic, defence and foreign policy issues. Since, the foreign policy of any country is the outcome of its internal strength, domestic peace, prosperity and national cohesion leads to a strong and effective foreign policy. This fact needs to be understood by all stakeholders. Hence every institution should remain in its own domain to strengthen government hands to serve the county in all areas, particularly in carrying out socioeconomic development of the country and running of strong foreign and defence policies. In this context, democracy will be only sustained and strengthened if all national institutions work in their own domains and mutually cooperate to maintain a good atmosphere for development of the country.

To avoid future military takeovers, sustain democracy and develop economically, we can also learn from our friendly country, Turkey. Turkey has also suffered such political upheavals in their history, but now they have managed to restrict the influence of each institution to its own sphere. Though, Pakistan’s scenario is somewhat different, but things are not as bad as  perceived by some people in Pakistan. As a student of international politics, my personal opinion about the future of Pakistan seems very bright if our politicians follow the guidelines of our founding fathers and military establishment concentrates on its own responsibilities and always gives a helping hand to the civilian governments.

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