Pakistan’s need to rethink tolerance for Afghan nationalism

Posted originally to Eurasia Future on 26 May 2019.

Pakistan’s military has also now publicly made it known that it is aware of the PTM’s links to foreign secret services and that it understands the ‘missing persons’ propaganda for what it is. PTM’s at times violent ethno-nationalist rhetoric has also seemingly finally to be producing some reaction from the military it targets disproportionately.

Far from being quashed, however, PTM has been granted audience with Senate committees for ‘dialogue’ and its prominent figureheads in the National Assembly, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, have not faced any consequences for their actions and their speeches which have often involved inciting violence against the state. In the modern day where policy approach toward security threats is as diverse and broad as it is, a state with the security dilemmas of Pakistan would ideally, owing to the links between PTM and hostile foreign actors, quash such disruptive and toxic elements and make an example out of them.

PTM itself seems a symptom of the state’s overly lax approach, despite the massive damages to infrastructure, civilian life and economy Pakistan incurred during the worst years of terrorism supported by PTM’s foreign sponsors, to national security. The army has adopted a comprehensive strategy to re-develop and re-integrate the war-ravaged Pashtun-majority tribal areas, ranging from infrastructure projects to establishing recreational facilities and de-radicalization centers.

The military has even been more than willing to take foreign media – even from India – to the tribal areas for observing progress made after the worst of the terror scourge was overcome and forced to escape to Afghanistan. That the military, with its credibility as a counter-terrorism force and stakeholder in the stability of the Pashtun belt the PTM claims to champion the rights of, would tolerate a movement such as PTM long after either of its public relations debacles from the Khaisor incident to the Arman Loni case is perplexing.

Tolerance of not only such a movement taking shape but of having representatives within the actual government of Pakistan itself is not the only mistake of Pakistan as a state that the PTM phenomenon is symptomatic of. It also, owing to its rather blatant sympathies with foreign ethno-nationalist ideologies hostile to the very existence of Pakistan together with its ties to enemy intelligence agencies, adds to a picture of Pakistan’s overall foreign policy which seems to cater to enemies abroad instead of treating them as enemies.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s Pashtun nationalist-inspired endorsements of PTM – acknowledged happily by its leaders – did not cause a stir in Pakistan’s policy circles anymore than the Kabul regime’s support for Baloch separatist (BLA) terrorists and extremist terrorists against Pakistan seems to. Pakistani premier Imran Khan’s decision in March to forego a meeting with Afghan Taliban representatives – a militarily powerful Afghan party non-hostile to Pakistan – upon the request of the Kabul regime was a vindication of those that describe Pakistan’s leadership as strategically inept.

Declining to meet with the Taliban upon the request of an Afghan nationalist government that is ideologically anti-Pakistan and aligned with India against Pakistan sent off all the wrong signals about how serious Pakistan is in ensuring its security, stability and survival by managing Afghan strategy properly.

While repeated bombings on BLA personnel residing in Kandahar’s posh Aino Mena locality (often followed by what appear to be revenge attacks in Balochistan) in recent months may indicate that Pakistan’s military ‘deep state’ is pursuing Pakistani strategic interests, it is evident that the civilian leadership is not. The military, which is also pursuing the vital task of fencing the Afghan border, cannot be expected to ensure foreign diplomacy is naturally complimentary to Pakistan’s strategic need.

The reason for this is that Pakistan’s media and intellectual landscape has several prominent voices that would assail any such military oversight as ‘encroaching upon democracy’. Already the major target of Indian – and Western – propaganda against Pakistan, the military seems intent on avoiding providing the stimulus for even greater synergy between these foreign narratives and affluent, English-savvy urban (and PTM-adoring) liberal activists.

Accordingly, Pakistan’s state and non-state stakeholders invested in the country’s struggles must cease to demonstrate tolerance for irrational Afghan nationalism. Given the increasingly bad reputation Ghani’s government in Afghanistan has among non-Pashtun ethnic groups for its fixation on ethnic nationalist politics, proactive and targeted Pakistani outreach toward Afghanistan’s Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek groups would remedy its currently irrational tolerance of Afghan nationalism.

Afghanistan’s Pashtuns should be taken, based on both current events and the history of Pak-Afghan ties, as a lost cause in terms of outreach and Pakistan should concentrate its scholarships, cultural exchanges and media collaborations with Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun ethnic groups. To do so with Afghanistan’s most anti-Pakistan faction, whose ideology produces phenomenon such as the PTM, is counter-productive and even ridiculous.

Moreover, it is insulting to Pakistan’s own identity to cater so heavily toward a political ideology that holds Pakistan should not even exist. Pakistani policies such as training the armed forces of the Kabul regime and dispatching aid to it seem paradoxical when put into the context of reality.

As oft emphasized by Afghan Tajik politician Latif Pedram, who also seems one of the few non-Taliban voices in Afghan politics friendly toward Pakistan and not India, it is only Pashtun nationalists which irrationally resist recognizing the Durand Line as the international Af-Pak border. Such figures in Afghan politics, together with the Taliban with whom Pakistan has old links, can well be accessed by Pakistan as a network of different contacts within Afghanistan all of whom, regardless of their issues with each other, hold the Kabul regime in low regard.

Given the marginalization of non Pashtuns and the promotion of Afghan nationalism by the sprawling duo of Western corporate, state-funded and Indian media, Pakistan could record a ‘new beginning’ through shunning Afghan nationalists and helping their rivals forge a counter-narrative to them within Afghanistan. Little concern would need to be set aside in the future thus for PTM-like problems arising in Pakistan what with Afghan nationalists undermined effectively at home.

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