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PAKISTAN, IRAN AND AFGHANISTAN ENGAGEMENTS

Posted on 23 February 2012 by admin

On February 17, President
Hamid Karzai of Afghani-
stan, President Mahamoud
Ahmedenejad of Iran and
President Asif Ali Zardari
of Pakistan held a meeting
in Islamabad to discuss their
bilateral and regional issues.
This event attracted much
attention of the media in
three countries, especially in
Pakistan, and it was hailed as
the most serious attempt by
three neighboring states to
work together to address the
issues of peace, security and
economic development.
 
The three heads of states
agreed to work together for
helping to stabilize the situ-
ation in Afghanistan as the
U.S./NATO troops withdraw
from Afghanistan.  Paki-
stan and Iran were keen to
reduce the role of the U.S.
in the region. However, Af-
ghanistan was cautious in
taking a clear position on
this issue, although Presi-
dent Karzai said that the
distance between Kabul and
Islamabad was less than the
distance between Kabul and
Washington, implying that
Afghanistan and Pakistan
could engage in cooperative
interaction.
   
Karzai has been success-
ful in getting the support of
Iran and Pakistan for his bid
to enter into negotiations
with the Afghan Taliban. He
wants Pakistan to encourage
the Afghan Taliban leaders
to resume dialogue with his
government. He also met
with some leaders of Paki-
stani Islamic parties in or-
der to seek their support for
this purpose. Pakistan and
Afghanistan also discussed
the measures to remove
operational problems in
Afghanistan’s transit-trade
through Pakistani territory
and Pakistani port of Kara-
chi.  Pakistan also explored
the option of its trade with
Central Asian states through
Afghanistan’s land route.
  
The three leaders agreed that
they would not allow their
territory to be used against
one another. Pakistan spe-
cifically assured Iran that it
would not allow the use of its
facilities for American attack
on Iran. The President of
Iran and Pakistan affirmed
their strong desire to expand
their bilateral trade and Iran
reiterated its commitment
to supply gas to Pakistan.
It may be mentioned that
Iran has also offered to sell
1000MW electricity to Pa-
kistan to help Pakistan cope
with energy shortages.
    
Pakistan’s President Zardari
declared that Pakistan would
complete the gas pipeline
project.  The U.S. wants Pa-
kistan to abandon this pro-
ject and it is willing to sup-
port an alternate gas pipeline
from Turkmenistan via Af-
ghanistan.  Pakistan wants
to get gas from both sources.
However, Pakistan can-
not get funding from Asian
Development Bank or the
World Bank because of
American opposition.  Most
multi-national corporations
or groups will also be re-
luctant to fund this project.
Therefore, Pakistan will have
to get funding from within
Pakistan or seek Russian or
Chinese help. 
It is a positive development
that Iran, Afghanistan and
Pakistan want to work to-
gether for addressing the
regional problems.  They
had two similar meetings in
the past but no significant
change came in their policies
after the first two meetings. 
However, now these coun-
tries have realized that they
will have to work together if
the region is to be stabilized
and the role of outside pow-
ers is to be reduced in the
region. 
 
Each state has its own con-
siderations to work together. 
Hamid Karzai is somewhat
perturbed by the U.S effort
to engage the Afghan Tali-
ban in Qatar because of the
fear of being left out. He is
worried that the U.S. may
not enter into an arrange-
ment with the Afghan Tali-
ban that would exclude him
from the post-withdrawal
political set up in Kabul. 
Therefore, he has sought the
support of the government
of Pakistan and the leaders of
Pakistan’s Islamic parties for
facilitating his government’s
dialogue the Afghan Tali-
ban. If he succeeds in initi-
ating a meaningful dialogue
with the Afghan Taliban, he
can show to the Americans
that he is an active player in
building up expanded sup-
port for his government.
  
This has led Karzai to modify
his tough approach towards
Pakistan. Until recently his
government was accusing
Pakistan’s intelligence estab-
lishment of aiding Afghan
Taliban. Karzai and his of-
ficials blamed Pakistan for
the assassination of Profes-
sor Burhanuddin Rabbani in
Kabul in 2011. 
 
The three leaders have made
important decisions. The key
question is how far they will
be able to pursue policies to
implement the decision of
the summit conference.
   
In the past, these countries
often distrusted one another
for one reason or the other.
From time to time, Iran crit-
icized Pakistan with refer-
ence to Jundollah’s terrorist
activities and Iran’s reserva-
tions about Pakistan’s rela-
tions with the U.S. Similarly,
distrust manifested in the
Pakistan-Afghanistan rela-
tions on the issue of cross-
border movement of Taliban
between these countries.  It
is difficult to suggest if these
countries have overcome
their old biases.
  
The on-going trouble in Pa-
kistan’s relations with the
U.S. has led Pakistan to cul-
tivate its neighbors and ex-
pand ties with other states,
especially Russia and China. 
However, Pakistani dilemma
is that it is unable to decide
if the transit of American
supplies to its troops in Af-
ghanistan through Pakistan
would be restarted. It wants
to play tough with the U.S.
but it also needs weapons
and economic support from
the U.S. and other western
countries. 
   
Despite the strong rhetoric
of the conference we will
have to wait and see if Af-
ghanistan, Iran and Pakistan
can cooperate in an effective
manner for changing the re-
gional strategic and political
landscape.

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