The term â€œendgameâ€ is imbued with as many meanings as the number of players seeking to fast-track an amicable solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Some states have higher stakes than others. The US and other troop-contributing countries have focused their efforts on transitioning out of Afghanistan by 2014, but gaps between operations and objectives still fog this war. While an internal consensus among Afghan actors remains the most crucial element of any settlement, there is little doubt that regional players have a key role in facilitating progress. Among them, Pakistanâ€™s role is pivotal but not always understood.
The recent Jinnah Instituteâ€“United States Institute of Peace report, Pakistan, the United States and the End Game in Afghanistan, aims at seeking clarity and motive in Pakistanâ€™s current outlook toward Afghanistan, its strategic interests, and the implications of how it pursues them. Given Pakistanâ€™s centrality to peace in the region, in the context of an unstable strategic relationship between the US and Pakistan, the articulation of a cogent policy view that includes civil society and state representation in Pakistan bears value for anyone looking to secure a successful transition in Afghanistan.
Intellectual capital on foreign policy is not hard to generate in Pakistan. The challenge lies in connecting the dots and obtaining big-tent representation. The reportâ€™s findings are based on several discussions with a wide spectrum of Pakistanâ€™s foreign-policy eliteâ€”retired civilian and military officials, analysts, journalists, and civil-society practitionersâ€”with established expertise on Afghanistan and knowledge of the modalities of policymaking in the US It also takes on board the views of senior politicians from all frontline parties as well as the militaryâ€™s official spokesperson.
The idea was also to find how Pakistan can best pursue its interests in the changing Afghanistan endgame calculus, and what policies the US, India, and other regional actors would have to pursue for Pakistani objectives to be met. Pakistanâ€™s goals matter because whichever way one looks at it, either as builder or spoiler, Pakistan is key to durable stability in Afghanistan.
Findings suggest that Pakistani policy elites see their state as pursuing two overriding objectives: one, that the â€œsettlementâ€ in Afghanistan should not lead to a negative spillover so that it contributes to further instability in Pakistan or causes resentment among Pakistani Pashtuns; and two, that the government in Kabul should not be antagonistic to Pakistan nor allow its territory to be used against Pakistani state interests.
No surprises here, but for these umbrella objectives to be translated into actionable policy, it seems Pakistan would need to seek three outcomes. First would be to seek a degree of stability in Afghanistan, an agenda Islamabad is working on. Clearly, Pakistanâ€™s interests are best served by a stable, efficient government in Kabul that is not hostile toward it. There is across-the-board realisation here that persistent instability in Afghanistan will have numerous consequences that Pakistan is ill prepared to tackle.
Second, all see the need for an inclusive government in Kabul. In other words, Pakistan would prefer a negotiated configuration, with adequate Pashtun representation, that is recognised by all ethnic and political stakeholders in Afghanistan. Some opinion makers even insist that a sustainable arrangement would necessarily require the main Afghan Taleban factionsâ€”Mullah Omarâ€™s group and the Haqqani networkâ€”to be part of the new political arrangement.
Third, there is worry about limiting Indian presence in Afghanistan to development activities alone. The Pakistani foreign-policy enclave accepts that India has a role to play in Afghanistanâ€™s economic progress and prosperity. Yet many believe that the present Indian engagement goes beyond just development and thus raises legitimate concerns in Pakistan. A reluctance to address Pakistani misgivings increases the likelihood of a growing Indian footprint, and, in turn, New Delhiâ€™s greater ability to manipulate endgame negotiations and the post-settlement dispensation in Kabul. As the Pakistani security establishment sees the dynamic, India has interests in Afghanistan, but Pakistan has vital stakes.
Unsurprisingly, Americaâ€™s Afghanistan strategy is perceived to be inconsistent and counterproductive, not only for Pakistanâ€™s interests but also for enduring peace in Afghanistan. A number of US policy initiatives are identified as problematic. The most scathing criticism is targeted at the political component of the strategy, which is largely seen as subservient to the military surge. Pakistani opinion makers sense a civil-military disconnect in the US establishment; the civilian administration is perceived to favour political reconciliation while the Pentagon still prioritises greater military gains. Not many are optimistic about the prospects of the US military surge. While there is recognition that military operations over the past year have degraded the Talebanâ€™s capacity, virtually no one is convinced that this can put an end to the insurgency or that it can force the main Taleban factions to negotiate on Americaâ€™s terms.