Shortly after entering office at the end of 2014, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani embarked on a bold but controversial policy of sustained conciliation toward Pakistan, with the goal of securing greater cooperation in securing a comprehensive peace with the Afghan Taliban and integrating Afghanistan into the regional economies. Pakistan's tepid response to date, however, has left Ghani politically vulnerable, with his opponents attacking his outreach effort.  Time is of the essence. Without meaningful actions soon from Pakistan and robust support from the international community, especially China, the initiative is likely to collapse, with devastating results for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the broader region.

Summary

  • Immediately after coming to office, the national unity government in Afghanistan undertook the bold but controversial move of adopting a conciliatory approach toward Pakistan to secure its cooperation in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table and, over the long term, helping the Afghan economy by acting as a sort of “traffic circle” between an integrated South and Central Asian economy.
  • This decision has led to a domestic backlash in Afghanistan, colored by a historical mistrust of Pakistan, that undermines President Ashraf Ghani’s already weak political position.
  • Though former president Hamid Karzai had also sought to enlist Pakistan’s support in facilitating negotiations with the Taliban, he vacillated between urging an Afghanistan-Pakistan rapprochement and blaming Pakistan for Afghanistan’s problems, while attempting to play off Pakistan against its chief rival, India. Ghani’s outreach is substantively different in that it seeks to allay Pakistan’s concerns, real or perceived, with regard to its interests in Afghanistan.
  • With its key strategic interests addressed, and with China’s growing interest in Afghan stability and Pakistan and China’s nervousness about the U.S. troop withdrawal potentially increasing the chaos in Afghanistan, Pakistan may now find that it is in its interest to move away from its Karzai-era policy of turning a blind eye to the situation in Afghanistan.
  • President Ghani is fighting against the odds. Not only is Pakistan’s willingness to provide support unknown, so too is Pakistan’s ability to draw the Taliban into a meaningful reconciliation process. The weakness of the Afghan national unity government and the growing perception that it may not last are additional complicating factors.
  • Pakistan’s tepid response to date has left Ghani increasingly vulnerable politically. But Ghani’s approach, though high risk and having a low probability of success, in the absence of any viable alternative offers the only real hope for comprehensive peace in Afghanistan and stability in the region, and should be supported by all concerned parties.

About the Report

This report analyzes Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s decision to set aside his country’s long-standing distrust of its largest neighbor, Pakistan, and to embark instead on a policy of sustained conciliation in an attempt to secure greater cooperation from Pakistan in fighting Taliban militants on Afghan soil. The report examines the logic of Ghani’s outreach and considers why, ten months after initiating the policy, he continues to pursue it despite ongoing Taliban violence in Afghanistan and few signs of concrete actions from Pakistan.

About the Authors

Moeed Yusuf is director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). His current research focuses on youth and democratic institutions in Pakistan, policy options to mitigate militancy in Pakistan and the South Asian region in general, and the U.S. role in South Asian crisis management. Scott Smith is director of the Afghanistan and Central Asia program at USIP. Prior to joining the Institute he spent thirteen years at the United Nations, focusing primarily on Afghanistan and democratization and peacekeeping issues.

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