Why Can’t We Be Friends Again? S Iftikhar Murshed

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nawaz sharif ashraf ghani pakistan afghanistanThe threats and challenges facing Pakistan and Afghanistan are the same and demand a united, fresh approach by the neighbors

S IFTIKHAR MURSHED

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e are in the bad habit of pontificating to the Afghans. We have incessantly lectured them on the need for peace and stability in their country and proffered the unsolicited advice of establishing a broad-based government in accordance with the ethnic mosaic that defines Afghanistan. Through the years they have listened to this tedious refrain in dignified silence but with unmistakable amusement as though to tell us, ‘physician heal thyself.’ This was particularly relevant in the years following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in February 1989.

During that period, Pakistan itself was in political turmoil. On August 6, 1990 the first Benazir Bhutto government was dismissed by president Ghulam Ishaq Khan. This was followed by Nawaz Sharif’s first term which also ended abruptly. On April 18, 1993 the president dissolved the national and provincial
assemblies but the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court and Nawaz was reinstated on May 26 only to be ousted again on charges of corruption on July 18.

Benazir Bhutto returned to power on October 19, 1993, and, three years later her government was dismissed by president Farooq Leghari, and, thus began Nawaz Sharif’s ill-fated second term in February 1997. But his ‘heavy mandate’ proved too weighty a burden for the flimsy prime ministerial chair to
bear. Nawaz went completely berserk. He dreamt the dream of becoming the amir-ul-momineen, his goons stormed the Supreme Court, but when he tried to dismiss the army chief he was ousted in a military coup on this day exactly 15 years ago.

In 2002 Yevgeny Primakov, who was the prime minister of Russia from 1998-1999, told me during a meeting in Moscow: “As a well-wisher of Pakistan, I suggest that your government should stop preaching to the Afghans on how they should run their country. They laugh at you. This is because through the 1990s no government in Pakistan has been able to complete its term. First
put your own house in order. This is exactly what I was told by your Afghan counterpart here, Ambassador Ahmad Zia Masood who, as you know, is the younger brother of the late Ahmad Shah Masood.”

In the context of the latest turn of events what Afghanistan and Pakistan have to come to terms with is that they are looked upon by the international community as ‘failing’ or ‘fragile’ states. The ratings of both in the Fragile States Index (FSI) have been consistently atrocious.

The FSI rankings are determined by twelve indicators: (i) demographic pressures; (ii) internally displaced persons; (iii) targeted communal violence; (iv) continuous flight of human capital; (v) regional and
ethnic disparities; (vi) economic decline accompanied by the growth of the undocumented economy; (vii) corrupt leadership; (viii) the collapse of public  services; (ix) authoritarian rule; (x) security apparatus as ‘state within a state;’ (xi) the use of communal rhetoric by those in high places; and (xii)
external interference and the growing influence of non-state actors.

These are some of the challenges that confront Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two countries have held crucially important, albeit imperfect, elections in the last seventeen months – Pakistan on May 11, 2013 and Afghanistan on April 5 this year followed by a runoff ballot on June 14.

Both elections were controversial but the difference is that Afghanistan has been able to at least temporarily overcome the difficulties and establish a government of national unity in just four months after the second round of voting. In contrast, Pakistan is still in turmoil since last year’s elections
which marked the commencement of Nawaz Sharif’s hitherto unspectacular third
prime ministerial term.

When the preliminary results in the Afghan runoff ballot showed Dr Ashraf Ghani, an ethnic Pakhtun, in the lead, his opponent Dr Abdullah Abdullah refused to accept the outcome and alleged that
there had been electoral fraud on an “industrial scale.” There was a possibility that he would form a parallel government amid fears that the country would descend into chaos and even a protracted civil war.

But eventually better sense prevailed. An extensive UN supervised audit of nearly eight million votes
showed that there had been irregularities but both sides were equally culpable. However, this did not alter the overall outcome of the elections even though this was bitterly disputed by the Abdullah camp.

Tensions soared again and the situation was summed up by Ashraf Ghani a few weeks back in an interview to The New York Times.  He described the dangers confronting Afghanistan through
a parable: “Two people were riding in a boat and one of them took a chisel and started making a hole in the bottom and his companion said, ‘What are you doing? You’re going to drown us.’ And the other replied, ‘I’m making the hole in my part of the boat.’ That captures it,” continued Ghani. “There are not two boats.”

This was wisdom indeed and speaks volumes about Ghani’s sense of realism which has enabled him to make historic compromises. Political analysts were stunned when he chose the brutal ethnic Uzbek leader, General Abdul Rashid Dostum as one of his two vice presidential candidates. The other was Sarwar Danish, a Hazara from the Hizb-e-Wahdat. In the 2009 presidential elections Ashraf Ghani was trounced and secured only three percent of the votes.

Shortly afterwards in an article for the London Times on August 20, 2009 he described Dostum as a “killer” and lashed out at Hamid Karzai for calling Dostum back from Turkey and teaming up with him for the elections. Yet five years later Ghani did not have the least hesitation in also roping in the man who he once disparaged as a murderous criminal as his running mate. When grilled about this
by Agence France Presse, he was unflustered responded calmly: “Politics is not a love marriage; politics is a product of historic necessities.”

To break the political deadlock US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Kabul on August
7 and this was the curtain raiser to an intense diplomatic effort which lasted several weeks. There were glitches and hiccups along the way but eventually a power-sharing agreement was brokered. Under this arrangement Ashraf Ghani was sworn in on September 29 as president and Dr Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive officer with powers similar to those of a prime minister.

The Afghan constitution enables the president to delegate some of his powers, and,
it was accordingly decided that Dr Abdullah would be entrusted the responsibility of the day-to-day affairs of the government while reporting to the president. However, the post of chief executive is a political innovation and will require a constitutional amendment the procedure for which is detailed
in Article 150 of Afghanistan’s basic law.

This involves the formulation of draft amendments by a commission consisting of members of the government, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court. To come into effect, the proposals have
to be approved by a two-thirds majority of a specially convened Loya Jirga (grand council). Clause A of the National Unity Government Agreement which was signed by Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah on September 21, therefore, specifically calls for the convening of the Loya Jirga within two years.

These are the initial steps that Afghanistan has taken to steer away from the storm generated by this year’s presidential elections. However, it still has a long way to traverse and the road ahead is treacherous. But the new leadership in Kabul may yet prove equal to the challenges of the coming months. There is hope.

In 2003 Ashraf Ghani was recognized by the publication Emerging Markets as the best finance minister of Asia. In 2006 when he was tipped as a candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as the UN Secretary General, The Financial Times of September 18, 2006 cited experts as saying “the UN would be very lucky indeed to have him.” Last year he was ranked second after the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in a survey of the world’s top 100 intellectuals.

Yet it is uncertain whether he will be able to bring an end to the Taliban insurgency. This requires close coordination with Pakistan. For its part Islamabad should think beyond its ridiculously overworked slogan emphasizing an ‘Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process.’ The threat the two countries face is common and they have to evolve a mechanism for defeating terrorism.-The News International

 

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