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Pakistan has no friends in region: Ahmed Rashid

Noted author and journalist Ahmed Rashid has said Pakistan is facing some real geo-strategic problems as it has become so isolated that it has been left with no friends in the region.

“We don’t have regional allies. Arabs have had enough with Taliban and Afghanistan. China is close to us, but it’s aware of the religious extremist tendencies here which pose a serious threat to China due to its rebellious Muslim population. India can’t be a friend after what we’ve done in Kashmir. We’ve created an enormous sense of distrust among the Central Asian countries, thanks to our military policies.”

During a candid talk on “Regional Situation – Opportunities for Pakistan”, organised by Pakistan Institute of Maritime Affairs at the Defence Central Library, the author of international bestseller Taliban said: “Pakistan is still harbouring terrorism in the region as a national foreign policy tool. We should get rid of the militaristic approach towards Afghanistan. If we’ve interests over there, so do other regional countries. We are not their sole neighbour. So, we should abandon the idea of a so-called Pakistan-brokered peace in Afghanistan.”

Admitting that Pakistan was the most important neighbour of the war-torn Central Asian country due to the largest shared borderline, Pakhtun population and traditional friendly ties between the two countries for the last 30 years, Rashid believed it was time for Pakistan to give up its monopolistic policy towards Afghanistan.

“We are losing our position. Our leverage over Afghanistan is becoming lesser and lesser with time. Iran is attracting 60 percent of Afghan trade. Therefore, the key is to develop a regional strategy to secure peace.”

On the general perception of an Indian threat, he said: “A country with 10 percent growth rate won’t go for war.”

On the Kargil war, Rashid was of the opinion that its political repercussions had proved to be chronic for Pakistan as it contributed to further isolation of the country in the world. “We somehow conveyed the message during the war that we were willing to use our nuclear weapons.”

Rashid, an international journalist with unparallel access to top politicians and militant leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, said that if Pakistan wanted India out of Afghanistan, India would become a “spoiler” in Central Asia, Balochistan and even in Fata.

“Do our leaders really see common sense in pursuing the Cold War dreams? Aren’t we ready to dump the luggage we’ve been carrying since the Cold War? I believe we should begin to consider the new geo-political realities.”

Stressing the need for a new foreign policy based on friendship and peaceful co-existence, he said Pakistan had become militarily, politically and economically weaker since the Cold War and it was no more capable of pursuing a hostile policy in the region.

He said the country’s security establishment had been reluctant to bring the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) into the mainstream in order to keep it as a no-man’s-land to train bad guys against foreign enemies.

The seemingly hostile audience was not convinced with Rashid’s proposal for a limited Pakistan role in Afghanistan. When one member of the audience stood to defend Pakistan’s monopolistic approach to Afghanistan by recalling the hospitality of Pakistanis for the Afghan refugees and the country’s military support to the Afghan revolt against the Soviet Union, the signs of frustration were clear on the speaker’s face. “Let’s make it clear that Afghans owe us nothing. Damn it, what we did in Afghanistan we did for our so-called national interests. So let’s call a spade a spade.”

However, he was optimistic that Pakistan still had a geo-political advantage in the Gulf, Central Asia and South Asia – only if exploited wisely by the security establishment.

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