The concept of being a “sore loser” is well defined, but when it comes to neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan can be described as a “sore winner”. In the 1980s, Pakistan supported the winning side during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the 1990s, Pakistan was the most influential international factor in Afghanistan’s relations with the wider world and today, Pakistan’s peace plan has been vindicated as even the United States can hardly pretend that the regime it installed in Kabul is any more legitimate than the pro-Soviet regime which took power in the Saur Revolution.
To put it succinctly, Pakistan’s long held position has been vindicated by the fact that not only the US but also Russia, China and even Iran now openly acknowledge that the only solution for the Afghan failed state is for an all parties peace process that requires the formal integration of the country’s most powerful political force, the Taliban, back into mainstream politics. While the US still likes to use soft language to indicate this position, it is nevertheless highly significant that whilst America entered Afghanistan in 2001 to reform the Taliban from power, now they are negotiating as equals on an evermore frequent basis. The foregone conclusion of these talks will be Washington’s international rehabilitation of the Taliban.
And yet, whilst US officials frequently meet with the Taliban for peace talks, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was recently bullied by the Kabul regime to such an extent that he cancelled a meeting with Taliban officials. Then Imran Khan’s message of peace regarding Afghanistan was misunderstood both by Kabul and by Washington and received subsequent criticism even though the mild statement merely recounted that after an interim political process, a new government must form in Afghanistan. Far from exotic, this statement is merely a mundane summary of the internationally accepted view that a new all parties government must form in Kabul in order for peace to prevail.
It is not surprising that the comic-opera style regime in Kabul would attempt to bully its neighbour in this way. While the regime controls as little as 20-30% of all legally defined Afghan territory, it nevertheless seeks to bully and provoke Pakistan at every possible opportunity. There’s no telling if the irony of refusing to recognise the Durand Line whilst not controlling one’s own territory is lost on the regime, but one shouldn’t be surprised if the spineless are also humourless.
But beyond the comical aspects of the situation is a very serious flaw in Pakistani diplomacy that could be fixed by a mere change in mentality. Why should it be that when Pakistan was consistently on the winning end of arguments and of conflicts within the perpetually troubled Afghan state, the diplomats of Islamabad constantly apologise for not reading from a script that is approved by Kabul? Why is it that when even Kabul’s American benefactor can scarcely hide the fact that it has given up on the regime and is ready for a fresh approach to peace, should Pakistan continue to afford Kabul the respect that a lowly servant displays towards his master.
Has someone neglected to mention that Naya Pakistan not only means standing up for Pakistani dignity against powerful adversaries but also standing up for Pakistani dignity against weak bullies?
This is not to suggest that Pakistan should gloat about its position as a vital if not the vital component in the peace process, but nor should Pakistan apologise when there is nothing to apologise for. The following facts are universally acknowledged and yet Pakistan still offers apologies when expressing them at the displeasure of Kabul:
1. The Kabul regime is de facto illegitimate because it cannot command the peaceful support of a majority of Afghans
2. The United States has given up in Kabul in all but name as Washington officials continue to speak face-to-face with the Taliban in spite of protests from Kabul
3. Not only has the United States changed its opinion on the modern, reformed Taliban but so too have Russia and Iran – two longstanding erstwhile opponents of the Taliban. China continues to support Pakistan’s position as it has over the many decades of strive in Afghanistan.
4. Pakistan is more vocal in its apologies direct towards Kabul than it has been about taken action when regime forces take innocent Pakistani lives.
5. The Taliban and Pakistan can potentially work together to fight terrorist organisations like Daesh for the benefit of the wider region.
Sadly, because of Pakistan’s rhetorically sheepish attitude, the US can still unload rhetorical anger on Pakistan in order to pretend that it still has the proverbial back of Kabul when even Kabul’s leaders know that this is no longer the case. Pakistan must calmly but firmly stand by its record in Afghanistan and must not flinch from pushing forward a peace process that everyone in the world wants, except the failed (non) rulers of Kabul. Pakistan should not apologise unless it has something to apologise for. It is time for dignity to be restored to Pakistan’s diplomatic language on the subject of Afghan peace.