The link between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan's new security doctrine

Published: 10:22 PM, 20 Mar, 2021
The link between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan's new security doctrine
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The question we’re asking today is right up there in the very title and it is: What is the link between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s “new” ‘security doctrine’? To answer this question, I will have to take you into the cool environs of the Margalla Hills and to the recently concluded “Islamabad Security Dialogue”.

The so-named “Islamabad Security Dialogue” was Pakistan’s first-ever international forum where security experts and stakeholders from Pakistan and around the world, came together and exchanged ideas on war, peace and security. This moot was organised by one of the oldest security think tanks in Pakistan, the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) that is affiliated with the National Security Division of the Government of Pakistan. At this moot, three important speeches by three important people are to be noted and birthed the above question. First, let us try to review what was said so that we can answer the question with some context.  

The first speech to note is of Dr Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s national security tsar, and the man behind this refreshing, brilliant and timely idea of putting together an international-standard, security-centred moot. He said, and I am only paraphrasing, that in his view Pakistan needs to reimagine its national security doctrine and move beyond its current military focus. He said that we need to adopt a “comprehensive security” framework that incorporates multitudinous aspects that have today come to comprise the littoral bounds of the idea of ‘national security'. In today’s world, these include economy, health, climate change, and several other aspects. Indeed, these are some rather refreshing and welcome thoughts that promise to imbue our idea of national security with a dynamism that is needed for our globalized, ever-changing world. But, what’s the point of all this, you ask? Don’t be tarried. I think he was setting the stage for something else.

That ‘something else’ was the speech here by Mr Imran Khan, our prime minister. The Prime Minister echoed Mr Yusuf and said that we needed to redefine our national security and expand our definition beyond a black-and-white security focus. He named climate change as the “Number 01” thing to incorporate into our national security doctrine. Next, he added food security and the economy as the most vital aspects of national security for today’s world. Do you see now? Something was happening there. This is new and seems to be quite a break away from our more traditional view of national security.

From here, he came to regional peace. He said that we needed to focus on accelerating our economic growth to meet the challenges of climate change, food security, poverty and a flagging economy. To do this, he said, we need to forge regional peace. In this, Afghanistan seemed to be first on the Prime Minister’s mind. He said that Pakistan is Afghanistan’s “partner in peace” and that both the security and prosperity of the neighbours are inextricably intertwined. Further, he talked about shared economic growth through regional integration and, importantly for us, mentioned a proposed railway line between Pakistan and Uzbekistan that would run through Afghanistan, and would help connect South Asia and Central Asia.

Now, from economic integration and peace in Afghanistan, he pivoted to India. Do you see that Mr Yusuf indirectly and Mr Khan more directly just drew a link between Afghanistan and India over the matter of economic integration? On India, he echoed his own earlier statement in which he had stated that Kashmir was the “only” bone of contention between India and Pakistan. He offered a “hand of peace” to India, inviting it to come to forge a “civilized relationship” with Pakistan by resolving the Kashmir issue through dialogue. He emphasized that India “must take the first step” and create an environment conducive to resolution. Interestingly, while he did mention that India must hold a plebiscite in Kashmir in accordance with UN resolutions, to ‘determine the will of the Kashmiri people’, my paraphrase, not his words, he did not say that India needs to undo its August 5th actions where it incorporated Kashmir into itself as a “Union Territory”.

Next, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, our army chief, also delivered a noteworthy speech. He seemed also to dwell on this newfound idea of “comprehensive security” that is distinct from our national security ideas of the past. Through his words, he actively reoriented ‘national security’ to now mean the provision of “a conducive environment in which aspirations of human security, national progress and development could be realized”. He said that we needed to dig ourselves out of the “swamp of poverty and underdevelopment” by focusing on “demography, economy and technology” and by forging “peace, stability and [a] developmental orientation” within Pakistan and in the region around it.

Now, just like the two others in question, he added that Pakistan needs to leverage its geostrategic location to drive economic progress. In doing so, he said, we needed to go on a “quest for peace in Afghanistan” and renew economic ties with the country. To do so, in his view, we needed to “re-energize” the Af-Pak trade and Af-Pak-India transit trade; become “part of energy and trade corridors binding Central, South and West Asia through land routes”; and, very importantly, by “inviting Afghanistan to be part of CPEC”.

Then, from CPEC and regional integration, he – like the Prime Minister – pivoted to India. “It is time to bury the past and move forward,” he said, and called “the resumption of the peace process or meaningful dialogue”. The “or” is important. But anyway, he called on India to “create a conducive environment, particularly in Indian Occupied Kashmir” for the peace process “or” meaningful dialogue to forge a peace. And, did you notice? He also did not mention India’s August 5th actions and instead said it was time to “bury the past and move forward”.

Now then, dear reader, let us come back to today and to our questions. As must have become quite clear now, we began asking our questions because, at this very important moot, Pakistan’s top leadership has just redefined its orientation on national security and, by measures, has thrown climate change, poverty, food security and economy into it. While in itself this redefinition may be viewed with the lens of ‘changing times requiring an update of old ideas’, who said what there and how should not be allowed to be lost in translation.

If you re-read the above, you will see that Pakistan’s leadership has drawn a straight line through three points that it has just canvassed for us. Here, the first dot has the economy, regional peace, regional integration, and things that the preceding three can help fix (e.g. poverty or climate change – for instance, through regional cooperation). Importantly, the leadership has unanimously announced that it sees economic growth and prosperity in opening Pakistan up to regional trade and energy cooperation by linking Central, West and South Asia.

The second dot for us is Afghanistan. All the above-listed, economy-centred aspirations, in view of our leadership, are tied into Afghanistan. For example, the Prime Minister mentioned a railway link with Uzbekistan going through Afghanistan that would allow Central Asian countries to trade with the world through Pakistan. Similarly, General Bajwa emphasized regional energy links, of which the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline is an example.

However, General Bajwa also gave us the key with which we can answer the question we began with: General Bajwa stated that Afghanistan ought to become part of CPEC. Why did he say it and why is this so important? Because Afghanistan has an estimated $3 trillion worth of untapped mineral resources. And, the “C” in CPEC is very interested in this. That is to say, China wants to tap into Afghan mineral wealth and has long been engaged in Afghanistan. It is for this reason that China was included by the US as part of the new Biden Peace Place to be on the Afghan negotiating table.  

Anyway, for China, what better way is there to draw benefits from Afghanistan’s mineral wealth than to route its export, and possibly processing, through its extensive CPEC trade route in friendly Pakistan? This is the key here. With the Afghan war looking to come to an end, China is readying to go in and become a part of the new and upcoming economic “Great Game” in Afghanistan. Here, its most friendly ally, Pakistan, is going along to help as well as to benefit.

But as I said earlier, there is a third dot to this line and that is India. As long as Indo-Pak tensions continue to simmer and there are tensions in the east, Pakistan cannot focus on its western border and work with China on Afghanistan. Therefore, the Indian problem needs to be addressed. Then, the Pakistani leadership has offered a “hand of peace” and called upon India to “bury the past and move forward”. It has not made any specific demands on India to reverse its August 5th actions.

On the whole, it has offered, in General Bajwa’s words, a full-fledged peace process “or”, at least, some level of peace talks. This is why the “or” is important: Because it doesn’t matter as much which of the two Pakistan gets. The point here is to cool down temperatures on the eastern front and disengage focus on India. Either of those two can help do that.

And this is the link between Afghanistan, India and Pakistan’s new security doctrine: China and Pakistan want to tap into Afghan economic potential; Pakistan wants to break out of its economic straitjacket, integrate regionally and foster economic growth through regional trade; and, this is not possible as long as India continues to play “broth spoiler” in this context.

Therefore, in the final conclusion, the Pakistani offer to India is: Whatever you did, we don’t appreciate it. But we also don’t want to upturn this can of worms. Let’s start talking for now and cool things down. We will focus on our western borders and we will come back to the bigger issues like Kashmir, at a later point in time.

Categories : Opinion
Behzad Taimur

Behzad Taimur is a researcher and development professional who is currently affiliated with a leading private, research-focused university in Lahore, Pakistan. He has a keen interest in history, geo-politics and international relations. He tweets at @BehzadTaimur.