A Bad Af-Pak Deal

05/22/2015 02:19 am ET | Updated May 21, 2016

The former Afghan president Hamid Karzai seems mad at his successor and ex-chief advisor, President Ashraf Ghani, for brokering a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency. Karazi believes that the deal is against Afghanistan's national interest and insists that Kabul should immediately cancel it. The officials who discussed the deal disagree and argue that it will enable Islamabad and Kabul to work jointly to fight terrorists on both sides of the border. Unlike the Afghans, the Pakistanis appear to have no disagreements on the deal. When they negotiated it, the country's elected prime minister, the army chief and the head of the ISI were all present in Kabul and that meant that everyone on the Pakistani side was on the same page in support of enhancing intelligence cooperation with Afghanistan.

President Ghani has not been in his current office for more than one year yet he has demonstrated great haste in agreeing to a deal that could have catastrophic consequences for the future of Afghanistan. Ghani had spent twenty-four years away from Afghanistan before returning to his country in 2001 after the collapse of the Taliban regime. He had spent most of his time in the United States working for the World Bank. Even when in Afghanistan, he spent time as the head of the Kabul University. This distance from everyday politics is big enough to create a lack of understanding for him of the dynamics of regional politics. It is not his fault. Even Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister, who is in his third term,still does not fully understand what is going on. He was in Kabul simply because his generals wanted him to be there. Neither he controls them nor can he say no to them. So, Ghani does not have to feel bad about being an inexperienced president who has apparently been manipulated by his neighbors and coaxed to enter into an agreement that he should have avoided in the greater interest of his country.

Afghanistan and Pakistan do not need this agreement at this time. They are two different countries with different needs. For Afghanistan, it is important to regain its sovereignty, minimize the influence of its neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan, in its domestic affairs. Kabul also needs to make sure that it is capable of unplugging all sources of support and sanctuary for the Taliban. It is an open secret both in Afghanistan and Pakistan that Islamabad is actually the creator and sponsor of the Taliban. When they were created and backed, the Taliban did not hurt the state and the people of Pakistan.

Therefore, this deal will once again provide the ISI access to Afghanistan's security apparatus. The worst thing the Afghans can afford at this point is to renew access to the enablers of the Taliban in their intelligence service. That will create insider support for the Taliban. This deal is not good for Pakistan either. The Pakistanis have to admit that the game they started in Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban has turned against them. The Taliban have entered Pakistan's main cities and have killed tens of thousand of innocent civilians as well as policemen and army soldiers. One reason why President Karzai's suggestion should be taken seriously is that Pakistan has shown no signs of fully disconnecting contacts with or support for the Taliban. So, it does not make much sense for the Afghans to open their official doors for those who created the Taliban and have now failed to overpower them inside their country. The real Taliban problem exists in Pakistan not Afghanistan.

If Pakistan truly wants to help Afghanistan, it should sign a civilian assistance deal with the Afghans instead of a defense and military agreement. The people of Afghanistan should benefit from such a civilian assistance program. Through this deal, Pakistan should announce hundreds of scholarships for the Afghan students to go to prestigious Pakistani schools such as the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Institute of Business Administration (IBA), the Quaid-e-Azam University, the Punjab University etc. so that young Afghans are helped in running their country's businesses and the public administration.

Civilian assistance is one thing that is missing in Pakistan's Afghan policy and India is effectively filling that gap. The Pakistanis complain about India's role in Afghanistan but they do not realize that India is fulfilling exactly the same needs that Pakistan has failed to meet. People want higher education because it is a passport to better economic opportunities and a higher social status. India provides scholarships and learning opportunities to the Afghan students to become doctors and engineers while the Pakistanis ludicrously object to this by making noise that the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, has increased its activities there. The Af-Pak region needs more cooperation among the agencies that promote economic empowerment not the intelligence agencies only. Sometimes back, when a journalist from a German radio station asked the Afghan students in India why they no longer went to Pakistan for higher education, one of them provided two reasons. Firstly, there is no value for a Pakistani degree in Afghanistan. Secondly, anyone who goes to Pakistan to get a degree returns home either as a recruited ISI agent or a Taliban sympathizer.

Today, the Afghan's have an opportunity to rebuild their country and the fledgling democratic institutions. Many Afghans, including President Ghani, have returned from the west to remake their country. Young Afghans are establishing media houses, non-profit organizations and educational institutions to build their broken country. There is enough interest from the Americans and the Europeans to help the Afghans to get where they feel they are destined to go in terms of developing their country's infrastructure and educational system.

Afghanistan should keep friendly relations with all of its neighbors, including Pakistan, but not at the cost of its sovereignty. While President Ghani should appreciate Pakistan's offer to help to fight their "common enemy", he should, at the same time, politely decline the offer by telling Islamabad that the two countries do not have a common enemy. There is only one enemy and one sponsor. That sponsor is not inside Afghanistan. It is somewhere else. Guess where?