Afghanistan's FP: Abandoning neutrality and accepting NATO's security system
Despite the structural weaknesses of the Afghan governments during the post-Taliban era, it seems that the country's foreign policy has changed, especially in the post-2014 years, and the governments are moving towards the abandonment of neutrality policy as well as re-orientation towards a new and different security complex. Kabul’s rotation towards the NATO complex needs some requirements and backgrounds which have been provided since a few years ago.
Since the formation of the National Unity Government in Afghanistan three years ago, the country’s foreign policy has been divided into two categories; Efforts to establish regional economic cooperation as well as enhanced political and security cooperation with the United States, some member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and US allies in the region. This seems to be one of the outcomes of Afghanistan’s “five-circle foreign policy”which President Ashraf Ghani outlined when he took office. While understanding the reality of Afghanistan’s security inclination towards the United States and some other NATO members, US new strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia suggests that the relations between Afghanistan and NATO are deepening and expanding. In order to study the foreign policy of the Afghan National Unity Government, as well as the country's relationship with regional security systems, the Institute for Central Asian and Afghan Studies has conducted an interview with Dr. Faramarz Tamanna, Director General of the Center for Strategic Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Afghanistan.The following is the full text of the interview:
Q:Considering Afghanistan’s special security situation after the fall of the Taliban regime, which has definitely affected the country’s foreign policy, in your opinion, what are the elements of Afghanistan's foreign policy in the special security situation of this country?? Tamanna: Post-conflict countries usually pursue the same kind of foreign policy; That is, a large part of these countries’ foreign policy capacity is spent on security and economic development. Afghanistan is no exception and the pillars of the country’s foreign policy revolve around two main objectives; the first one is to provide security and the second one is to move the wheels of the economy. In order to achieve these two main goals, Afghan foreign policy is drawn in five circles;
First circle: Neighbors plus India;
Second circle: The Islamic world;
Third circle: Countries which own most of the world’s power, wealth and knowledge; such as the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and European countries;
Fourth circle: Asian countries;
Fifth circle: International organizations
In these five circles, Afghanistan's foreign policy has operated at three levels:
-At the national level, Afghanistan has sought consensus on the main objectives of foreign policy; in other words, redefining foreign policy by a country whose position in international relations has undergone a complete change. The reason is that a consensus on the main objectives of foreign policy at the national level is the starting point for foreign policy action for Afghanistan or any other country.
-At the regional level, Afghanistan has sought a regional consensus in order to avoid becoming a hotbed of insecurity and a safe haven for terrorists and dissidents in the region. In this regional consensus, also, the countries across the region should refrain from interfering in Afghanistan’s affairs and should not allow anyone to use their soil against the country, as Afghanistan will not allow anyone to use its territory against neighboring countries too.
-The third is international consensus to assist in reconstruction and development of the country, to receive financial aid, as well as to absorb the potentials and capacities of the international community for the development of Afghanistan. According to this consensus, the international community stands beside Afghanistan and will not allow the country to be forgotten again, as it was in the 90s.
These are the most important elements of foreign policy in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Q: Since the inauguration of Afghan National Unity Government three years ago and the formation of the country’s five-circle foreign policy, to what extent Kabul has been able to act upon this pattern? Tamanna: As I have said repeatedly, the most brilliant functional dimension of the Afghan National Unity Government has been its foreign policy dimension. President Ghani was able to improve Afghanistan's relationship with the international community using his deep ties with scientific and executive institutions in the United States and other Western countries, as well as his position as an academic in the international arena. On the other hand, in the post-2014 era, it was Afghanistan that had to remain in the focus of global attention and continue to receive aid from the international community with its capabilities. Communication with foreign embassies in Kabul, numerous trips to countries in the region and around the world, participation in international conferences –clear examples of it were the visit of all 15 members of the Security Council to Kabul as well as the special meeting of the Security Council on Afghanistan–show that the functional dimension of Afghanistan's foreign policy has been very constructive, and Afghanistan, as a country that seeks international peace and security, is still the primary focus of the world's most powerful nations. Therefore, Afghanistan's foreign policy has gained great achievements at the regional and international levels and has been active in all its five circles.
Meanwhile, the only weakness Afghanistan has in its foreign policy –which not only the Afghan government but also several variables have been involved in it – is Pakistan’s lack of cooperation. This issue is not only related to Afghanistan’s foreign policy, but also to the complexities of the peace process and policy-making in Islamabad, as well as the Pakistan’s lack of honesty and seriousness in the fight against terrorism. In other cases, Afghanistan’s foreign policy has been very successful.
Q:So we can say that Afghanistan's foreign policy has been not well received by its neighbors. Except Pakistan, how is Afghanistan’s relationship with its other neighbors? Tamanna: Except Pakistan - which we could not convince it to cooperate sincerely and seriously in the fight against terrorism and to stand with Afghan people in peace, tranquility and security - Afghanistan has friendly relations with other countries.
- Our best relationship in the region is with India and New Delhi is considered one of Kabul’s strategic partners;
- Sino- Afghan economic ties have grown stronger, especially with Afghanistan being situated in the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is a major international economic development program by China;
- Afghanistan's relations with Central Asian republics such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have gradually entered the economic phase from the security phase. Tradeand transit linkages between Afghanistan and Central Asia, a rail connection from Afghanistan to Central Asia, energy transit, the TAPIgas pipeline and other issues, have caused the economic dimension of Afghanistan's foreign policy toward Central Asian countries to become more visible;
-Afghanistan's relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran differs from other neighbors. Cultural, linguistic, religious and historical similarities are a good platform for greater cooperation between the two countries, Both in the economic, cultural and scientific fields, as well as in the field of intelligence collaboration and counterterrorism. Therefore, the difference between Iran and other countries is that the common language, culture, religion, civilization and history between the two countries are a very broad platform for cooperation in various fields. Fortunately, Afghanistan’s relationship with Iran, especially on the issue of water, as well as signing a comprehensive document on strategic cooperation between the two sides, has reached its final stage. The Afghan government hopes the document would be finalized soon and signed as a basis for future cooperation between the two countries.
Q:There is a clear differentiation in Afghanistan's foreign policy; Afghanistan seeks economic cooperation with neighboring countries, and pursues further security and military cooperation with the United States and NATO. What is your opinion about this differentiation in Afghanistan’s foreign policy? Tamanna: Afghanistan has rational choices in its foreign policy. Based on these choices, Afghanistan's security and economy needs have been segmented, and the country interacts with other nations in proportion to its national needs. On this basis, if a country's economy is stronger than its security, Afghanistan will naturally give priority to economic activities in its foreign relations with that nation. On the other hand, if a country has security capabilities, Afghanistan would prefer to pursue security interests in its foreign relations with that nation. Therefore, Afghanistan makes rational choices in its foreign policy based on the capabilities of countries across the globe as well as its domestic needs at the national level. Of course, this does not mean that one country is superior to another, but this means using the capabilities which exist in bilateral relations with other countries.
Q:Hasn't this caused misunderstanding between different nations? For instance, Russia's new approach towards Afghanistan’s security developments can be a consequence of this foreign policy. Tamanna: Countries which have historically been involved in Afghan security issues should forget the past. Gone are the days when Afghanistan met all its political and security needs through some countries of the region. In the light of the current situation, all countries in the international arena are entitled to interact with other countries based on their national interests; But as far as security issues are concerned, the Afghan government has assured other countries that neither it is a hotbed for competition between regional powers nor the world’s great powers. Meanwhile, if there is only one center for development and cooperation between rival countries in the region and the international system, that center is Afghanistan.On the one hand, it has to be said that great powers such as Russia and the United States can confront each other in other places, and on the other hand, the existing capacities in those areas can better serve the interests of these countries; Therefore, Afghanistan is considered as the pivot of regional and international interactions, and other countries should have the same stance on it.
Q:Considering the three security systems in the region -Central Asia, the Middle East and South Asia- which side is Afghanistan leaning towards? Tamanna: In addition to the three security systems in Afghanistan’s south, west, and north, there are two other security systems that operate slightly beyond the region;
-One is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) security system, which is becoming the focus of economic and security cooperation, but it is not yet ready and needs time to become a mature security cooperation system;
- But there is another system in the region which I call "shadow security system". This system does not belong to our region, but it has extended its political and security influence across the region. The fifth security system is NATO. NATO has come to the region as a new security system, not at the "geographical level", but at the "conceptual level" to uphold concepts such as security, the fight against terrorism, the market economy and the values of liberal democratic culture in the region.
Among these five security systems, Afghanistan has the most conceptual similarity with NATO. On the one hand, Afghanistan's security is tied to NATO security, and the member states of NATO are Afghanistan's largest economic partners in the international system. On the other hand, the conceptual similarities between Afghanistan and NATO countries, such as liberal democracy, human rights and women rights, are the undeniable achievements of the Afghan government and the international community over the past 17 years. These issues bring Afghanistan closer to NATO's security system. Meanwhile, although NATO does not have a presence in our region, but conceptually it has been able to absorb the elements of Afghanistan's security and create cooperation. Therefore, among the five security systems around Afghanistan, NATO’s conceptual system has the most similarity to the Afghan security system. Meanwhile, the military and security issues of the Afghan army as well as its modernization are based on NATO standards; so, this system can better meet Afghanistan's security and economic needs.
But this does not mean that Afghanistan is at odds with other security systems around it. Using the capabilities of NATO's security system is aimed at bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, and peace and stability in this country will lead to peace and stability in the region.
Q:What are the advantages and disadvantages of this security system? Are there any signs of confrontation between the security systems in the region and that of NATO? Tamanna: Whenever one of the security systems in region has dominated Afghanistan and gained control over political and security issues (the North security system during the Soviet era, the Middle East security system during the civil war and South Asia’s security system during the Taliban regime), the other systems have reacted; And this has caused the security systems in the region to pursue their problems in Afghanistan. But since the presence of NATO’s security system in the country is aimed at fighting terrorism, and Taliban and other terrorist groups are considered one of the biggest threats to peace and security in the region, therefore, other security systems around Afghanistan have not reacted negatively to NATO’s presence and have accepted it as a benign security system which can bring peace and stability to the region. Meanwhile, it is natural that there are some misunderstandings between the security systems in the region and NATO on the major issues – and this is undeniable -but Afghanistan has tried to avoid confrontation between these systems in its foreign policy.
Q:Does Afghanistan's inclination toward NATO’s security system mean the end of neutrality in Afghanistan's foreign policy, or will the country remain a buffer zone between the security systems in the region? Tamanna: Afghanistan's foreign policy has witnessed two profound changes over the past three years;
- Abandoning neutrality; Adopting a policy of neutrality over the past hundred years – which of course has been sensible in parts of our history, not in most of it - has stymied Afghanistan’s progress. But, over the past three years, this neutrality has been abandoned, and Afghanistan has defined relationship with different countries based on its national interests.
- Shifting from balance to equilibrium; In previous governments, balance was the central issue of Afghanistan’s foreign policy. Afghanistan has always tried to have both the United States and Russia on its side; In other words, it has tried to have rivals such as Iran - US, Pakistan – India and China - US. But this foreign policy has changed over the past three years, and instead of balance, equilibrium has been replaced --which means that the weight of each country in Afghanistan's foreign policy is in proportion to that country's capabilities for communication in political, security, economic and development fields.
Therefore, it can be said that Afghanistan has abandoned its policy of neutrality and considers NATO and its member states as its staunch friends in the international arena.
Question: When Afghanistan abandons neutrality in its foreign policy, what will be the reaction of the neighboring countries and regional powers? Tamanna: Eventually, actions and reactions to a foreign policy lead to a series of aligned and unaligned policies in the region and around the globe. No country can ignore the negative and positive consequences, as well as the regional and international repercussions of a foreign policy; Therefore, it is natural that when Afghanistan abandons neutrality in its foreign policy, it will face a series of positive and negative reactions in the region or the international system. Considering these issues, Afghanistan has adopted a new foreign policy based on its national interests in order to meet the political, economic and security needs of the country. It is hoped that the countries of the region will understand the situation in Afghanistan and as they themselves are not neutral countries, accept that Afghanistan, as a country with a strong regional and international presence, can adopt its policy according to its national interests.
Q:What are the capacities of the Afghan government and how can it manage these new conditions with neighboring and regional countries and powers? Tamanna: When we pursue the policy of unity and alliance in our foreign policy, we recognize our friends, rivals and enemies in international relations. As a result, it is natural to build a deeper and stronger relationship with friends and those who have a more positive impact on Afghanistan's development, reconstruction and security. This is a capacity for Afghanistan's foreign policy and its situation management. No country can solve its problems on its own; therefore, the aim of pursuing the policy of unity and coalition is to empower Afghanistan, which can act as a deterrent and manage the negative regional or international consequences of adopting a policy of abandoning neutrality by Afghanistan.
The next issue that arises in relation to this question is internal and national consensus. The Afghan government has a national consensus on abandoning neutrality in its foreign policy, with the support of jihadist leaders, as well as influential political figures and ethnic groups. All those who have been involved in Afghan politics in the past decades have come to the conclusion that a policy of neutrality has failed to serve Afghanistan's national interests; Therefore, abandoning the policy of neutrality is supported inside the country as well, and this is another argument that makes the Afghan government stronger for pursuing unity and alliance with the world’s great powers.
Q:Some experts believe that US new strategy in Afghanistan is forming new regional blocs; US-India-Afghanistan bloc and China-Russia -Iran bloc. In such an atmosphere, how do you imagine the future of Afghanistan’s cooperation and development? Tamanna: Yes, it’s true. The United States has interests in the region which can be met if a strategic rectangle is formed. If this strategic and security rectangle is formed -- which in my view are Afghanistan, India, Turkey and Israel -- the US security umbrella will be kept intact in the Middle East. Therefore, these new blocs will be formed naturally. The security triangle of Iran, Russia and China stands in opposition to the security rectangle of Afghanistan, India, Turkey and Israel; But I do not think that these security triangles and rectangles choose Afghanistan as a conflict zone, but there are other parts of the world where they can fight with each other. In my opinion, Afghanistan's counterterrorism capabilities, its geopolitical position, its role as a buffer zone, and so on, could prevent the country from becoming a conflict zone. Consequently, if there is going to be an interaction and dialogue between these security triangles and rectangles, the focus of it will be Afghanistan.
Question: Given the new regional strategy as well as the United States new national security strategy, how do you describe internal developments in Afghanistan as well as regional and global developments? Tamanna: The shift in US foreign policy and national security strategy towards Afghanistan and the South Asian region is completely in line with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s foreign policy. This alignment has caused those involved in Afghan foreign policy to come to the conclusion that they should use this strategy more in order to achieve the country's national interests. The United States has now reached a point where we reached ten years ago. Pakistan is a sponsor of terrorism; A country that financed, equipped and trained terrorists in its territory. On the one hand, this shift in US foreign policy could lower Pakistan's role in political and security equations of the region and, on the other hand, strengthen the bonds of friendship and unity among Afghanistan and other countries which had a history of unfriendly relations with Pakistan. This new strategic alliance in the region will be built in the absence of a strong Pakistan, and Afghanistan, India, Iran and other countries should manage it. This new atmosphere is one that can be effective for regional peace and stability.
Q: In your opinion, where will US relations with Pakistan go? Tamanna: US-Pakistan relation as well as US new strategy against this country has put Pakistan at a crossroads. Pakistanis are left to choose between success in foreign policy and domestic policy. After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the main concern of Pakistani politicians were the Islamists who wanted to establish an Islamic government in the country. Given these circumstances, Pakistani politicians and intelligence agencies came to the conclusion that the only way to remove Islamabad’s concerns about Islamic extremists was to export Islamic extremism and fundamentalism capacities to the outside world. This was the only way for the success of Pakistan in domestic policy, because the ideas and beliefs of individuals like Muhammad Ali Jinnah and other technocrats who were the founders of Pakistan were not compatible with extremist ideas of the Islamists. In order to achieve this goal at that time, two regions became important in Pakistan's foreign and security policy: One was Jammu and Kashmir and the other was Afghanistan. These two regions were the best place to gather the extremist potentials and keep them busy. Therefore, the Islamabad-based technocrats and the ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence) have kept radical Islamists out of the country for decades. Thus, the support for terrorism and exporting extremism potentials is in line with strengthening the basis of the nation-state and it is an issue related to Pakistan’s internal developments.
The next issue is the relationship between Pakistan and the United States. The United States’ role as a strong international strategic partner over the past 60 years is a serious debate in Pakistan's foreign policy. If the United States had not stood beside Pakistan, this country would not have achieved many of its technological and military advantages over the past decades; In particular, the United States economic and military assistance has laid the foundation for the military and economic development of Pakistan in recent decades. Therefore, the United States’ role as a supporter has been an integral part of Pakistan's foreign policy.
But now the Pakistanis are at a crossroads, and in this paradoxical situation, they are hesitant to stand by the United States and continue to have a successful foreign policy, or to support terrorism and intimidation and continue to export these elements of insecurity to the region and have a successful domestic policy. Therefore, Pakistanis must choose whether they want to have the United States on their side and instead have a failed domestic policy and do not export extremism and terrorism outside their borders, or to have a successful domestic policy, to export Islamic extremism beyond Pakistan’s borders so that Islamabad can deal calmly with its nation-state building, economic issues and governance, but lose a major strategic partner such as the United States. Time will tell which one Pakistan would prefer. I anticipate that eventually Pakistanis will prefer to have a successful domestic policy and create tension with the United States, which will mean the end of honeymoon in US-Pakistan relations. On the other hand, such a decision would diminish Pakistan's role in regional and global political and security equations, and it is natural that in such a process, we would no longer have the negative influence of Pakistanis on Afghanistan's security issues.