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Islamabad, March 10, 2015: Foreign Secretaries of Pakistan and India have met in Islamabad in a bid to resume talks between the two countries. India’s Foreign Secretary, Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, arrived in Islamabad on March 5, 2015, and called on his counterpart, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry. Pakistan describes this development as an “ice break”. Both the states are expected to resume talks on a multiple range of issues; including the Kashmir dispute, terrorism, border disputes and economic relations.

Aizaz Chaudhry said that issues ranging from India’s interference in Balochistan, the Samjhota Express case, and the line of control (LoC) ceasefire violations were brought under discussion. “We also raised the issue of delay in the Samjhota Express investigation. No investigation details on the incident have been shared with us by India. Terrorism is not only Pakistan’s concern, but both countries are equally affected by it. We both have an understanding to fight and end terrorism. We are working to find a common ground from where we can start our joint efforts,” he added.

Foreign Affairs advisor to the Prime Minister, Sartaj Aziz, has stated that Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is likely to visit Pakistan next year to attend the summit meeting of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries.

Foreign Office spokesperson, Tasnim Aslam, has, meanwhile, dispelled the view that was circulating in some section of media that the meeting has failed. She stated in her weekly briefing that she would not like to characterize it as a failure. “We said that it is a visit that is taking place in lieu of the August visit as an icebreaker. It is a process,” she added.

It is important to note that, during the stalemate, there was unprovoked firing and shelling by India across the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, claiming several lives and forced many to leave their homes in fear. In August last year, India cancelled the scheduled secretary level bilateral meeting in protest against a Pakistan diplomat’s in meeting in New Delhi with Kashmiri Hurriyat Conference leaders.

Islamabad, March 09, 2015: The President Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS), Senator Sehar Kamran (T.I.) has congratulated the military and political leadership, scientists, engineers and the people of Pakistan on the successful test-launch of the Shaheen-III missile. Shaheen-III is a surface-to surface ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads up to a range of 2,750 kms. The test launch was aimed at validating various design and technical parameters of the weapon system at maximum range.

Senator Kamran said, nuclear deterrence was the vision of Quaid-e-Awam, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, as he laid the foundation of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. “I congratulate our civil and military leadership on this landmark event.” She further stated that the nation is firmly standing behind the armed forces of Pakistan.

Senator Sehar Kamran said that the test is, “another milestone of historic significance and another step in strengthening Pakistan’s deterrence capability.”

By Adeela Bahar Khan
Mar 10, 2015

The Afghan Conundrum

Over 13 years of War on Terror by NATO and the U.S. forces has ended in December 2014. But still Afghanistan is host to 12,500 troops by virtue of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the U.S. government for the training of the armed forces of Afghanistan. The anxieties about the future of the country have increased, and the question whether the Afghan National Army (ANA), Police and Paramilitary Forces are capable and trained enough to overawe the mounting pressure of insurgency in Afghanistan. Well over a decade of war, the defeat of the U.S. is self evident in that after the loss of more than 3,485 military personnel, spending a huge amount of money –  $686 billion (43%) were spent on Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and other counter-terror operations – the results are still far from being achieved. Regrettably, daunting challenges, ranging from the threat of insurgency and trans-border terrorism, still exist which is a big question mark on the U.S. justification for launching this war.

The goal of the policy as stated by the Obama Administration is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. The BSA is aimed at facilitating the Afghans Forces, i.e., the Army, Police and Air Force, to make them capable enough to defend their country on their own, but, unfortunately, they are not in a position to crush this ongoing insurgency and prevent cross-border terrorist activities, drug smuggling, human trafficking and arms smuggling.

More than 340,700 troops were in the process of training in their relevant fields; but, given insecurities to the coalition government and the emerging challenges, the requisite critical capabilities remain undeveloped. There are apprehensions regarding the finances and equipping of the training of these forces numbering approximately 183,000. According to a Report of Congressional Research Service, since the 9/11 attacks, the war operations have cost a total of $1.6 trillion  for military operations, base support, weapons maintenance, training of Afghan and Iraq security forces, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care .

In February 2014, the U.S troops from Afghanistan stood reduced from 67,000 to 34,000, and per year cost of the war shrunk from the big chunk of $194 billion endorsed in FY 2014. As far as the programme of Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (CTPF), the funding also reduced because of imposition of extra burden as against the previous year. There are loopholes in the programme and, eventually, its failure would be imminent if the situation becomes complex politically and military as it happened in Iraq and Syria. The development of appropriate, coherent and effective funding mechanisms and expenditure arrangements is in progress. In these circumstances, the challenge of terrorist groups persists and insecurity dominates. At the same time, 2014 was the deadliest year for Afghanistan. According to a United Nations report, civilian casualties hit a record high in 2014, jumping up by 19 percent with 3,188 civilians killed till the end of November by the security forces. The causalities are higher in number than the previous years.

The political coalition of the divergent political groups has made the unity of government difficult. The selection process has taken more than five months after taking power which comprises mainly members of the previous government. It seems as if the old cabinet is still in power. This is a challenge at the domestic front that the cabinet division faces the same tough challenges of corruption, inability, myriad security problems, lack of political will to reintegrate and reconcile former Taliban figures and combatants into a political settlement. The government must do so against the backdrop of continuing and potentially increasing regional instability, with the country’s neighbours tempted to step up their interference in Afghan affairs.  The withdrawal gives food for thought to the Afghan government and armed forces who must now take on the Taliban without the firepower and air support of NATO forces.

The transition of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan has also become a challenge for America; every step the U.S. takes with regard to the region must take into consideration the other factors which significantly amplify the degree of complexities to achieving even one of them.

Moreover, the primary strategic issue is not actually Afghanistan but Indo-Pak rivalry in the country. Pakistan is worried about the Indian presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan believes that India is illegally involved in training the Balouch insurgents and the terrorists that are involved in cross border terrorism in Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani during SAARC summit asserted that Afghanistan cannot afford proxy warfare on its soil. Besides this, the deformity of Pakistan-India balance is not far behind, as the war continues in Afghanistan, Pakistan remains in a destabilised situation.

Against this backdrop, there is a need that improved border management and more synchronized flow of people on both sides of the border could perhaps be one of the tangible steps both countries can take.  Various fragments have been properly trenched and fenced on the Pak-Afghan Border, Waziristan region, Chaman and Taftan border. However, close coordination and collaboration, proper documentation and visa arrangements between the two countries could possibly help improve the illegal cross-border movement. It would further improve by placing the security check posts at the entry and exit points on the borders. Furthermore, restoration of trilateral trust and an end to blame and double games by everyone is required. Pakistan would have to take realistic, comprehensible actions to wipe out the perception that it uses some Taliban factions for leverage in the national reconciliation process as well as for geo-political objectives.

The writer is Senior Research Associate at Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies, Islamabad. The article presents the views of the author and does not represent the position of the Centre.

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