Why Afghanistan Doesn't Trust Nawaz Sharif
This article originally appeared in The National Interest. Click Here to read the full article.
Afghan and Pakistani leaders met for critical talks last month as President Hamid Karzai traveled to Islamabad to sit down with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It was Karzai’s first visit to Pakistan since Sharif, a former two-time prime minister, took the helm of a new civilian government in June. aimed at patching Kabul’s frayed relations with Islamabad and seeking the release of senior Taliban prisoners to revive the stalled peace talks. But the lead up to the meeting did not augur well.
Despite considerable optimism in the West that Sharif’s return would enable the two countries to turn a new page, Afghans expect very little.
Questions remain, however, about which Nawaz Sharif should Afghanistan be dealing with.
The first is the one that has a history of supporting the Afghan Taliban, cozying up to militants in Punjab province, and trying to repair relations with Pakistan’s powerful army, which may involve making concessions on Afghan policy. The second Sharif is the one who sees his primary mandate as fixing Pakistan’s struggling economy, meaning ensuring regional stability and normalizing ties with Kabul. How can Sharif reconcile these contradictions?
At present, doubts linger among Afghans that Sharif’s policies will be any different from his predecessors, or that he has any ability to reverse Pakistan’s ongoing interference in Afghan affairs and support for militancy. Afghan wariness stems largely from the fact that Sharif backed Afghan factional leaders and mujahideen resistance groups against the Soviet-backed Afghan government in the 1980s. He was influential in forming an alliance of Afghan mujahideen in Peshawar, Pakistan, before sending it over the border to take power in Kabul, and was the only foreign leader to visit Kabul during mujahideen’s rule in 1992. And it was during Sharif’s second term as prime minister that Islamabad recognized the Taliban government in 1997. Afghan leaders also are convinced that Pakistan’s security apparatus hosts and supports the Taliban as a deliberate strategy to undermine Afghan statehood. With his pro-Taliban tendencies, he even attempted to implement a Taliban-style law and order of governing in Pakistan in 1998. However, the ground realities have radically changed since the 1990s, the security dynamics have shifted, and importantly, new players and factors have emerged, including some that are fervently anti-Pakistan.
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Javid Ahmad is a Program Coordinator with GMF's Asia program where he works on Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. He also instructs senior U.S. military and civilian officials about the region.