After Imran Khan took office as Pakistani Prime Minister (PM) and the establishment of a new government there, Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Quraishi was the first high-level Pakistani official of the new administration to visit Kabul.
In his visit to Kabul, Quraishi met Afghan President as well as the Chief Executive and other high-level Afghan authorities to discuss peace and stability in the region, the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan, and elimination of mistrust between the two counties.
A month later (August 18, 2018), the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI), Imran Khan, was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan and, in his inauguration speech, he said that he wanted good relations with all neighbors and that he would try his best to maintain good ties.
The Analysis looks into Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s strategy towards Afghanistan and his role in constructing friendly ties with Afghanistan, as well as the optimism regarding the future of Afghan-Pak ties following the election of Imran Khan.
Imran Khan’s Afghanistan Strategy
Pakistan’s cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan established his political party of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1997 and after twenty years of political struggle was eventually able to reach to the position of Pakistan Prime Minister. For the first time in the history of Pakistan a new party and a new politician has won the elections and become Prime Minister against the Pakistan Muslim League Party and Pakistan People Party.
Since Imran Khan entered the Pakistani political ground, he has always reiterated slogans against internal fragile governance and corruption in Afghanistan and has vehemently opposed the presence of the U.S in the region and its drone attacks of the country’s tribal areas.
Prior to the announcement of the result of the last elections, Imran Khan had promised that if he won the elections he would make efforts to rebuild the Kabul-Islamabad ties. Likewise, while talking about his foreign policy during a speech in Islamabad after accomplishing victory in the elections, Imran Khan said: “we want good relations with Afghanistan and hope that one day we will have open borders with Afghanistan like European Union. Afghan is the only nation who has suffered from the war more than every other nation in the world. We will make solemn efforts and do serious work for maintenance of peace and stability in Afghanistan, because peace in Afghanistan means peace and tranquility in Pakistan.”
Furthermore, last week, Imran told a meeting in Karachi that he will grant Pakistani passports and ID Cards for all those Afghan children who have been born and raised in Pakistan.
Considering the previous stands of Imran Khan, Afghans are optimistic and expect good policies and positive strategies from the new Pakistani government towards Afghanistan. President Ghani has also called on him to pave the way for authentic relations between the two countries. In general, however, such hopes are baseless; because the analysts and researchers of both sides believe that Imran Khan will, to a large extent, follow the previous policies of Pakistan when it comes to the Afghan matter because on the one hand, he is considered as a close person to the Army and on the other hand, viewing the concerns and mistrusts of the Pakistani side, it does not seem that Pakistan will easily change its Afghan strategy.
Will Imran Khan Fulfill his Promises ?
Imran Khan has always talked about corruption and poverty in Pakistan and condemned weak governance, stating his dream for building a “New Pakistan”. He had also promised to make efforts to maintain good relations with neighbors if he won elections.
While Imran Khan might be able to work for his hopes regarding “New Pakistan”, combatting corruption and developing the economy; his remarks in the foreign policy realm on normalizing ties with neighbors seems impractical as the final decision is made by the Pakistani Army in this regard.
There are, however, analysis that Imran Khan’s PTI has closer ties with the army in comparison to other parties and the Army’s hands were behind his triumph in the elections; therefore, Imran Khan would be bound in devising foreign policies especially with regards to Afghanistan, India, U.S., China and Russia while keeping the Pakistan Army satisfied.
In addition, Pakistan has been encountering extensive international pressure and has lost U.S. financial aid on the one hand, while on the other hand it faces wide-ranging security, political and economic challenges inside the country. Thus it is likely that Pakistani civilians and military bodies will work together to take the country out of these conditions and to mitigate the international isolation and regain the lost credit.
Future of Afghan-Pak Ties
Pakistan and Afghanistan are two neighboring countries that have always been skeptical and incredulous about each other’s positions. The relations between both countries has passed through a lot of ups and down in the last 17 years since 2001. A lot of efforts are however being made for upgrading of these ties and trust-building; but following any security related incidents, mistrust and suspicion resumes between the countries.
The election of a Pakistani PM who has close ties with the Army and his insistence on having good relations with Afghanistan, the visit of Pakistani Foreign Minister to Kabul, and the Pakistan promises on Afghan peace and stability given have created optimism for rebuilding the Kabul-Islamabad ties.
Furthermore, Imran Khan is someone who explicitly opposed the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and region. Based on a report by the New York Times, he was recently quoted telling the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan that the U.S should seek a political solution instead of war in Afghanistan stressing that it is necessary to bring stability in Afghanistan through political settlement.
Imran Khan believes that Pakistan has also suffered from the ongoing U.S. war in Afghanistan. Recently, he told Russian RT news channel that participating a strangers’ war was harmful for Pakistan and it was a lesson to Pakistan to never get involved in other’s wars.
Despite all that has been discussed, it looks as if the new government of Pakistan is trying to mitigate the U.S. and international pressure on it. For now, as the United States has initiated direct peace talks with the Taliban, there are expectations that Pakistan, for the purpose of receiving credit from the U.S., will make efforts to encourage the Taliban into direct talks with the U.S and Afghan government. It is what seems to be honest efforts of making peace with the group. Meanwhile, there remains the likelihood that Pakistan will not be forgetting its “Strategic Depth” policy regarding Afghanistan easily and despite bringing short-term changes in its policy, will not ever fully change it taking its long-lasting concerns into account.