Pak-Afghan Relations: Mistrust and Blame Game

Written By: Dr. Minhas Majeed Khan

Pakistan-Afghanistan relations have always seen ups and downs due to various reasons. Although, there have remained several expressions of friendly relations from the leadership of both the countries from time to time, the mistrust and blame game towards each other could never help bring the two countries on the same page with regard to various challenges that the two countries are faced with. As the two are important regional countries, there exist socio-economic and political opportunities, however, both countries have remained suspicious of each other. Both continue to remain at cross-purposes, which will further harm their long-term security and economic interests. Scholars suggest that relations between both the states are an account of mistrust and a display of 'Prisoner’s Dilemma'.

 

pakafghanrelforces.jpgThe Prisoner's Dilemma is a typical model of a game examined in game theory that illustrates as to why the two individuals, though rational, might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest to do so. In other words, it is frequently used to indicate the decision of two interacting actors/players under certain conditions. That is to say that in Prisoner's Dilemma the actors have to make a choice between colluding or betraying. According to Robert V. Dodge (2012): Prisoner’s Dilemma is a game theory and a model with wide ranging applications. It is a competition between individual self-interest and group motivation, but the game represents a direct challenge to basic assumption of classical market economies. In Prisoner’s Dilemma the players have two choices: to cooperate or not. Cooperating involves trust, which makes the game complex. Schelling's (2012) idea, on the other hand, to halt the defections was to find common grounds in his “if and only if” approach.1


Similarly, Usman and Khan (2017) argue that Prisoner’s Dilemma revolves around the pay-offs, which grows out of making different decisions. Individual policy makers, their thoughts structure the inclinations towards each other. It is further suggested that in case of Pakistan and Afghanistan, if they want to attain cooperation both need to alter the pay-offs in such a way that cooperation becomes a first choice and collective rationality prevails. The iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is the repeated play of Prisoner’s Dilemma, studies the long-term decision-making where the actors have a shared future and interaction. This phenomenon can best be seen in Pak-Afghan relations.2


Not dwelling on the initial unpleasant relationship of the two countries when Pakistan became independent as a sovereign state, the relation between the two, after Taliban, is an unfolding era of mistrust when both the countries are swapping accusations against each other, which has put the relations in reverse gear. The major obstacle in the way of cordial Pak-Afghan relations is continuing cross-border terrorism. Each suspects the other of covertly supporting the Afghan Taliban and the fugitive leaders of the hibernating Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), respectively. Afghanistan continues to blame Pakistan of harbouring Afghan Taliban, particularly the Haqqani group. They also accuse Pakistan of arming and funding Taliban fighters who conduct terrorist activities in Afghanistan from Pakistani soil. Per contra, Pakistan is also suspicious of Afghanistan’s India-centric policies, which result in insurgency and unrest in FATA, Balochistan, Karachi and different parts of the country. Unfortunately, both countries, despite having several commonalities and being allies in the War on Terror, could not bridge trust gap bilaterally. Consequently, the violence in both the countries has permitted regional powers to interfere in their affairs and manipulate the situation for their own interest.


When Hamid Karzai took over, he was more inclined towards India and wanted more role for the latter in Afghanistan due to which he often criticized Pakistan for destabilization in the country. After Karzai, Pakistan and Afghanistan relations saw a qualitative change with improved bilateral relations. President Ashraf Ghani showed his willingness through his actions to work closely with Pakistan to eliminate terrorism. It was a major change in Afghan foreign policy, which upset Northern Alliance and alarmed India.


The recent waves of violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan have further fanned the blame game. On January 10, 2017, twin suicide blasts near the Afghan parliament killed and wounded dozens of people. Two other attacks elsewhere in the country killed 12 people and wounded several more, including the United Arab Emirates' Ambassador to Afghanistan. Pakistan was once again blamed for the attack on an American University which claimed 16 lives. Many analysts argue that it was a security lapse on the part of Afghan security agencies, since attacks carried out in Kabul, Helmand and Kandahar were all in security zones.

 

When Hamid Karzai took over, he was more inclined towards India and wanted more role for the latter in Afghanistan due to which he often criticized Pakistan for destabilization in the country. After Karzai, Pakistan and Afghanistan relations saw a qualitative change with improved bilateral relations. President Ashraf Ghani showed his willingness through his actions to work closely with Pakistan to eliminate terrorism. It was a major change in Afghan foreign policy, which upset Northern Alliance and alarmed India.

Similarly, Pakistan saw a rise in terrorist attacks in 2017. On January 21, around 21 people were killed and more than 90 were injured in a bomb explosion in Parachinar, Kurram Agency. On February 13, a suicide attack outside the Punjab Assembly in Lahore during a protest killed 14 persons including 6 policemen and injured more than 85 people. Another deadly suicide attack was carried out on the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif, Jamshoro in Sindh, which killed more than 88 people and injured 343 other. Many other cities were hit by a wave of terrorism killing and injuring tens of people. Pakistan did not blame Afghanistan directly but stated that acts of terrorism were being carried out from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan to foment violence in Pakistan. Moreover, a list of 76 suspected terrorists was handed over to Afghan Embassy, demanding immediate action by Afghan government and their extradition to Pakistan.


Despite the fact that ISIS has claimed responsibility for various attacks, Afghanistan's government has persistently blamed Pakistan for the disorder, insurgency, sponsoring terrorism, etc., in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s repeated assurance that cooperation in regional security issues is in the common interest of both and that they should work together to address the challenges, unfortunately, could not change Afghanistan’s stance. It is also important to note that both the TTP and the Afghan Taliban share same ideological narratives and support each other when in hot waters. As a result, the Afghan Taliban and the TTP have continued to take full advantage of such increasing mistrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan by organizing deadly terrorist attacks on both sides of the porous border.


In his address at the 6th annual conference of Heart of Asia in December 2016, President Ghani, while blaming Pakistan, declined Pakistan’s pledges of $500 million for Afghanistan's reconstruction and stated that Pakistan should use this fund to contain extremists because without peace, any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of his people. On the other hand he praised Indian role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. It is imperative to mention that Afghanistan has lately rectified an impractical geostrategic and geo-economic policy supported by Indian economic and strategic thinkers.
On another occasion President Ghani threatened to block Pakistan’s trade access to the Central Asian Republics (CARs) if Pakistan did not officially permit Afghanistan to import Indian goods through the Wagah border. The reality, however, is that Afghan government is obviously mistaken about totally blocking Pakistan’s trade access to Central Asia through Wakhan Corridor; revoking its abiding transit agreement with Pakistan and subsequently accessing India through the Chabahar Port.

 

Despite the fact that ISIS has claimed responsibility for various attacks, Afghanistan's government has persistently blamed Pakistan for the disorder, insurgency, sponsoring terrorism, etc., in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s repeated assurance that cooperation in regional security issues is in the common interest of both and that they should work together to address the challenges, unfortunately, could not change Afghanistan’s stance.

It is important to mention here that Afghanistan's decision will only harm Afghan regional economic interest because Pakistan has an alternative option, that is, after completion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan will be able to use other routes to export and import goods and energy resources from the region. Nonetheless, the non-cooperative conduct signals mistrust, blame games and the mud slinging that will certainly harm the mutual socio-economic and security interests of both, for example, obstructions and logjams for the TAPI gas pipeline which will help meet the energy requirement of both the countries. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has successfully dismantled the organizational structures of the TTP and its splinter groups; yet some Afghan terrorist groups still find centres of activities in north-western Balochistan and FATA from where they are believed to be planning attacks in Afghanistan. Therefore, after any terrorist attack in Afghanistan, Kabul blames Islamabad.


In the Prisoner’s Dilemma, where the two actors are interacting, the initial lesson drawn can be disappointing. It shows a zero-sum situation where one actor must lose in order for the other to win. To avoid losing, each actor is driven to practice a winning strategy, however, the collective result is unproductive, at best; and destructive, at worst. Therefore, it is absolutely clear that the aggressive and obstructive geo-economic policies of Afghanistan towards Pakistan will hurt both the countries as both are faced with challenges like poverty, unemployment, terrorism and militancy. Therefore, It is in the interest of both to cooperate rather than pursuing antagonist policies. Both, Pakistan and Afghanistan, cannot afford mistrust and hostility in their relations, which, as discussed, has adverse effects on their relations. Moreover, both need to adopt mutual cooperative strategies to break Prisoner’s Dilemma, maintain mutual trust by transforming limited cooperation into full cooperation.


Pakistan and Afghanistan need to come out of the Prisoner’s Dilemma as their future and fate is linked. An unstable Afghanistan has a direct impact on stability in Pakistan. It is important to mention the development of their trust that can best be achieved through frequent interaction is vital for regional peace and security. Both have to realize that to achieve their objectives they have to compromise and cooperate on various issues. It is a fact that cooperation has better pay-offs. In order to come out of this dilemma, transparent and consistent policies need to be adopted. Pakistan realizes that in order to secure its western border and to secure trade routes to CARs for the pursuit for oil and gas, it needs to work closely with Afghanistan; whereas Afghanistan being land-locked will benefit from constant and sincere interaction with Pakistan free from Indian influence. In this regard, major powers like the United States, China and Russia can play an important role to break up the Prisoner's Dilemma between the two and facilitate and encourage them to cooperate and work together for their socio-economic, political and regional stability.

 

The writer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations at University of Peshawar, Pakistan.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

1. Robert V. Dodge, Schellings Game Theory: How to make Decisions, Oxford Scholarship Online, 2012.
2. T. Usman and Minhas M. Khan, Pak-Afghan Relations (2001-2017): A Prisoners’ Dilemma Analysis, 2017.
3. Smith, M. Shane, (August 2003), "Game Theory." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess, Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado: Boulder.

 
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