Trailing back in history is fraught with contradictions. While Pakistan’s inevitable decision to enter the Afghan theater has attracted a reflex like criticism, but critics at home have done dishonesty to history by ignoring that the state had no alternative towards the irony it was faced with. The southern push of the Soviets for Arabian Sea in retrospect was just as inevitable as Pakistan’s resolution to thwart it by covert means. Since Stalin’s Foreign Minister Vyacheslev Molotov (years prior to Pakistan’s creation) was offered – in 1940, by his German counterpart Ribbentrop – the option to join the Tripartite Pact (which then comprised of Japan, Italy, and Germany) and assist it in launching an assault over the British Isles, and for its services Hitler had promised Soviet Union the path to Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.

But the cost of the proxy war was to be borne mutually by Pakistan and the United States for their mutual failure to address overtime the question of a stable political order in Afghanistan. And it came in form of 9/11 when Al-Qaeda took the world off guard with their acts of terror, what followed is well-known history.

Though with ambivalence looming, Pakistan took its decisive showdowns against the threat of radical Islamism in the valley of Swat in 2009, later in South Waziristan and finally after years of reluctance in the summer of 2014, the federal government launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb and decided to move into North Waziristan.  Despite the state’s resolve to overwhelm the terrorist groups in FATA, the fateful Peshawar attack on the Army Public School (which resulted in the massacre of over 148 school children along with the members of school staff by Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan) dramatically changed the public attitude (towards the question of radical Islamism posed by TTP and their affiliates) and state’s resolve to combat terrorism and terrorist factions.

However, after this ephemeral overview of the timeline in post 9/11 Pakistan, let’s return to the question of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s orientation towards its western neighbor. Lately, the statement by former President Gen (Retired) Pervez Musharraf made a startling (but not a surprising) revelation about Pakistan’s use of Taliban in Afghanistan as a proxy to counter Indian designs. Although, the legacy of the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai is evident in how it fostered an environment of confrontation with Pakistan under the courteous patronage of India. Again, the dilemma left Pakistan with little pool of desired options, but definite as it seems, it had to engage. There is little to doubt any change in the Indian ambitions, even when the current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has been on record to have publically advocated the application of the policy of ‘defensive offense’. The doctrine is directed at propping ethno-nationalist Baloch insurgency in tandem with religious terrorist groups, which will serve as an alternative to resorting to a nuclear confrontation against Pakistan without having to cross Pakistan’s nuclear threshold in case of a conventional and nuclear standoff against it in the backdrop of another ‘Mumbai (like) attack’. While, Ajit Doval may argue it as an alternative in case of some hypothetical occurrence in future, there is little to doubt that the same course is not being adopted and executed to date by India. Particularly, when Pakistan has on numerous occasions brought up the subject in public and throughout its course of diplomacy.

Despite the controversy last year’s presidential election in Afghanistan brought hope not only for a polarized and disappointed Afghan nation, but it also revived a sense of optimism for Pakistan, particularly considering the shift in Afghanistan’s policy towards Pakistan under President Ashraf Ghani and his willingness to normalize ties with its eastern neighbor. In 2013, I had taken my first visit to Kabul City as a member representing Pakistan Civil Society’s delegation, the trip allowed me to interact with members of Senate’s International Relations Committee, Peace Council and the current Deputy Minister for Political Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Hekmat Khalil Karzai. Above all the trip provided me a firsthand exposure to perhaps one of the most misrepresented societies on the media.

Pakistan’s first admission should come with a fact that Afghanistan is a changed society with transforming dynamics – although these dynamics are not concrete and need to be sustained – and with a realization that we now deal with a politically diverse Afghanistan. Although, political and social polarizations are a part of the Afghan society, but despite that, I had learnt that Pakistan was missing a tremendous opportunity to put its course of Afghan policy in the right direction. Our reliance over Taliban (as per the former President’s statement) may have brought us short-term incentives, but we should exercise our influence to bring Taliban in mainstream and simultaneously cooperate with present Afghan Government to strengthen it and assist (Afghanistan) in realization of a functional Afghan state. Secondly, at the economic front, Pakistan hasn’t been able to cooperate with Afghanistan to its advantage. Despite that we have burgeoning exports of certain commodities to Afghanistan; Pakistan needs more engagement on the ground in Afghanistan and most importantly with its people. For this we need to be “seen” making a contribution to the process of change in Afghanistan.  To transpire this, Pakistan needs to encourage intensive cooperation and exchange between private stakeholders, public officials and elected representatives. Other than our nascent shaping security cooperation with Afghanistan, Pakistan needs to encourage investment of private stakeholders (in Afghanistan) in areas of education, health, entertainment media and entrepreneurial activities. In contemporary age Pakistan needs to swiftly and resiliently adopt new trends of carrying out foreign policy and particularly towards a neighbor we cannot afford to lose. Above all apart from identifying and pursuing Afghanistan on overlapping interests, we should strive to forge and sustain ties with Afghanistan on common values.