Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan paid his first visit after assuming office to North and South Waziristan on November 26, 2018. Addressing a Jirga of tribal elders, the PM said Pakistan believes in peace beyond borders and will play its role in the Afghan peace process as peace in the war-ravaged country is critical for achieving peace in Pakistan. Further, he reiterated his long held view that Pakistan had fought an imposed war inside the country at a very high cost and would never again go down that road. What the PM’s narrative misses in these statements is the context in which these developments and conflict played out. First and foremost, no one forced Pakistan to support the Afghan resistance to the Communist coup in Afghanistan in 1978 or the subsequent Soviet invasion and occupation of that country in 1979. Arguably, General Ziaul Haq was motivated not only by the potential threat posed by the Soviet forces having arrived at Pakistan’s borders but also saw it as a windfall opportunity to garner western support for his unconstitutional regime under the umbrella of supporting the so-called jihad by extremist religious militias against the Soviets. Through the subsequent twists and turns and final withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989, and the subsequent fall of the Communist regime to the mujahideen in 1992, the warring militias were finally winkled out by the rise of the Taliban by 1996. The fact that the Taliban hosted Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda led to their regime being overthrown by the invading US forces after 9/11. Pakistan was caught in the horns of a dilemma. The Americans had blood in their eye after the first devastating attack on the mainland US in its history, and Pakistan had few choices but to go along (at least ostensibly) with Bush’s so-called War on Terror. The fact that the retreating Afghan Taliban were sheltered (and arguably remained sheltered for long) on Pakistani soil since 2001 and Osama bin Laden was found and eliminated in Abbottabad arouses the US’s ire and provokes President Donald Trump to sound off against Pakistan every now and then. Our closeness to China, arguably has not and should not blind us to the still considerable clout and influence (not to mention military might) that the US enjoys internationally and which may be used against us in our dire economic circumstances unless the frictions with Washington are eased.

Speaking of our other border, the Kartarpur corridor initiative spells improved relations with India through the two Punjabs interacting with each other. While Kashmir remains the stumbling block to better relations with India, and the current repression let loose in the state by New Delhi is certainly a negative development, the irreducible fact remains that unless and until New Delhi comes to some internal political settlement with the people of Kashmir that prevents continued bloodletting, Pakistan and India may not be able to arrive at normalisation of relations either. And while the PM’s sentiments for peace are noteworthy and should be supported by all who hold Pakistan’s well being close to their heart, he should also recall his election pledge to restore peace in Balochistan and put some healing balm on the wounds of the people of that province, particularly regarding the abomination of enforced disappearances and interminably missing persons. Perhaps it is time once again to explore outreach to the exiled Baloch leaders to arrive at a political solution that stops the bloodshed. Peace beyond borders yes, Prime Minister, but spare a thought too for peace within. Both are equally critical.