Prospects of Defense Cooperation Between Pakistan and Afghanistan
Hassam Ahmed Siddiqi
The recent announcement of Biden administration to completely withdraw its forces from Afghanistan has multilateral impacts on the security dynamics of Afghanistan. Being in a state of conflict since last four decades, Afghanistan has turned out to be a hub of militancy, terrorism and extremism. Aside leading groups like Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Daesh (IS), various small factions and war lords are controlling a major territory of Afghanistan. As of 2020,it was reported that Talibancontrol around 20%of 407 districts of Afghanistan and the situation is expected to be grimmer and more intense, once US/ISAF forces completely withdraw from Afghanistan.[i]
Security Setup of Afghanistan
Over the years, United States has financed, trained and well-equipped various divisions of Afghan security forces. This includes various factions of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). The ANDSF is expected to rely for long term on contracted logistic support as well as the international assistance forvast majority of the funding needed to sustain their combat operations.[ii] Moreover, the country’s premier intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) is also responsible for safeguarding Afghanistan’s interests from internal and external threats. Though US forces have facilitated the state of Afghanistan to formulate and sustain a comprehensive security setup, yet they are least expected to address the security challenges that lie ahead keeping in view the nature of Afghanistan’s conflict.
Future of Afghanistan is expected to be decided in the Istanbul conference that is expected to be held in May,2021 however as the international forces leave Afghanistan, a security vacuum will be generated that will be very difficult to address for the country’s existing security setup. Militant groups and warlords will each try to dominate and engage in further conflict and thus a comprehensive and long-term strategy is direly required to address Afghanistan’s security concerns.
History of Intelligence Cooperation
Due to strain tiesbetween Pakistan and Afghanistan over the decades, both states refrained to cooperate in defense related issues. After APS attack in 2014, an MoU was signed between two sides for intelligencecooperation however the agreement could not be materialized as certain Afghan politicians, including former president Hamid Karzai, vehemently opposed the idea. Then NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil, had even refused to sign the MoU and subsequently a deputy director had signed it on behalf ofNDS. Due to immense pressure, the NDS later backtracked from the MoU claiming it was not practical and needed to be reviewed. Later in 2016, ameeting between then DG ISI Lt. Gen Rizwan Akhtarand Director of NDS Masud Andrabi was reported,to explore the possibilities of intelligence and security cooperation between two sides, however no further developments could take place.[iii]
Prospects of Defense Cooperation
The current dynamics of Afghanistan present a viable opportunity for both states to initiate a comprehensive and wide-ranging cooperation in terms of defense and intelligence. Security forces of Pakistan have been fighting war on terror since last two decades and are more equipped than international forces in terms of regional strategic dynamics. Afghanistan may consider to engage and benefit from the expertise of Pakistan’s security forces in terms of training, planning and implementation of operations. Joint military exercises can be conducted while joint operations may also be steered against the common enemies who remained sole reason of animosity between two sides. Aside operational collaboration of security forces, Pakistan may also support Afghanistan in terms of military equipment. Export of Pakistan’s military equipment has tremendously increased during last few years and hence Afghanistan can benefit from Pakistan’s military industry. Intelligence cooperation and inter-agency coordination between two states is direly needed keeping in view the future security challenges of both states. Decision makers of Pakistan and Afghanistan should envision long-term security challenges of the region, and collaborate in time to mutually address those issues, else both states will be fighting common enemies individually and accusing eachother, without realizing the intent of real enemy.
State of Afghanistan can be expected to sustain and address the prevailing security challenges if they are well-trained and well-equipped to do it. Even if Taliban become a part of Afghan government in future, their fighters are not as trained as the regular army and hence they will need assistance in this regard. Defense cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan is the need of the time and both states should think to explore avenues of cooperation in this regard. Pakistan’s regional objectives have changed from geostrategic to geoeconomics and this region can evolve in to an economic hub, however that is conditional to stable, secure and a prosperous Afghanistan.Keeping in view the evolving dynamics of ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, defense cooperation can be a major aspect of bilateral ties in future relationship.