Important developments

“The US believes that the new sanctions regime for Afghanistan will serve as an important tool to promote reconciliation, while isolating extremists,” is what US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said in a statement after the UN Security Council (UNSC) split the UN sanctions list for Taliban and al Qaeda figures into two. This distinction, however small, is very significant. It comes at a time when the US is said to be holding talks indirectly with the Taliban in preparation for withdrawal. Afghan President Hamid Karzai disclosed: “Talks with the Taliban have started...the talks are going on well. Also foreign forces, especially the US, are carrying out the talks themselves.” The western forces have finally understood that leaving Afghanistan without negotiating with the Afghan Taliban is just not possible under the circumstances. This is visible from the fact that a four-member delegation of German parliamentarians want to invite the Taliban to the second Bonn Conference in December. The first Bonn Conference took place 10 years ago but at that time there was idealism about the US invasion of Afghanistan and the consequences of such an invasion were not taken into account. The resurgence of the Taliban have made things difficult for the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, especially when there is war weariness back home. The American public has been asking for an end to the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because of the strain these wars are creating on their exchequer. The Afghan leadership, too, has been making headway to deal with a post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Without talking to the Taliban, US withdrawal is likely to be risky. If there is no political settlement, two things can happen. One, the Taliban will be back in power as the Karzai regime is not powerful enough to stop this from happening. Two, Afghanistan will have another protracted civil war. Both prospects are not particularly palatable. Keeping these possibilities in mind, President Karzai set up the High Council for Peace headed by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Even though the Council met the Pakistani authorities during Karzai’s recent visit in order to bring back normalcy in Pak-Afghan relations and promote negotiations with the Taliban, Mr Karzai’s recent statement implies that Pakistan and its military establishment are not involved in the ongoing talks with the Afghan Taliban. This points to the tense relations between the US and Pakistan.

In the past the ISI has sabotaged contacts between the Afghan Taliban and the foreign forces or the Afghan leadership as was evident in Mullah Baradar’s case. Events post-Abbottabad raid have further alienated the US from its frontline ally. There were already suspicions within the Afghan circles about Pakistan’s role in destabilising the region and now even the Americans are having to rethink what they want from us. This mistrust is not surprising given the games we have been playing.

On the other hand, we have not learnt from our mistakes. According to reports, army chief General Kayani told a visiting European delegation that we want “a stable Afghanistan but not at the cost of Pakistan”. This does not bode well for the future. Our military leadership has to understand that pursuing the hackneyed strategic depth policy will have serious repercussions for Pakistan. The Taliban have always held out, until now, for direct talks with the US after the foreign forces withdraw. Now that they have finally given in and if the talks with the Taliban are successful, it means the Taliban may agree to a power-sharing formula. In such a scenario, Pakistan cannot rule out the possibility of its nemesis Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) finding sanctuaries on Afghan soil. We are heading for a bleak future unless and until we end our double game and start on the mission of dismantling all jihadi networks from our soil.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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