Afghan reconciliation process

Having tried to keep Pakistan out of the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, the US is now looking at Islamabad to press the Afghan Taliban to cooperate. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Washington has noted Pakistan’s “legitimate interests” in Afghanistan, which is why it expects Pakistan to ask the Afghan Taliban to join the reconciliation process. This means that now noises of Pakistan’s central role in Afghanistan are being heard in the US. This is a realistic approach given how it is impossible to keep Pakistan out of the loop when the Afghan Taliban as well as the Haqqani network are in its fold. As the end game in Afghanistan comes closer, regional relationships and politics are all in a flux. This can be judged by President Asif Ali Zardari’s whirlwind trips. From Iran to Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia, the president has been rather busy. Ostensibly, President Zardari went to Iran to sort out the gas pipeline issue. He went to Afghanistan to condole with President Hamid Karzai at the loss of his half-brother. The president’s trip to Saudi Arabia could be looked at from two angles. One, ask for economic cooperation (read more oil and money). Two, to allay Saudi fears about greater cooperation with its archrival, Iran.

The solution to the Afghan quagmire does not rest in Pakistan’s hand solely. There are other major players who have stakes in this region. India has its own concerns. Ms Clinton tried to reassure India that “drawing down is not the same as disengaging” but at the same time she was also clear that everyone needs “to be on the same page for this to work…whether we live in Kabul or Islamabad, New Delhi or Washington”. It shows that the US is well aware of all stakeholders. Iran and Saudi Arabia are also important when it comes to Afghanistan. Iran hosted a counterterrorism summit in Tehran last month in which the leaders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan “stressed their commitment to efforts aimed at eliminating extremism, militancy, terrorism, as well as rejecting foreign interference, which is in blatant opposition to the spirit of Islam, the peaceful cultural traditions of the region and its peoples’ interests”. As for Saudi Arabia, it wields considerable hold over the extremist forces in the region owing to Saudi-funded madrassas and covert and overt support to sectarian outfits. Pakistan’s military establishment created the Afghan Taliban and continues to support them. Thus it was a bit surprising to hear Prime Minister Gilani say that Pakistan believes in non-interference policy in Afghanistan. The prime minister obviously made this statement for public consumption but everybody is aware of ground realities.

The US, Afghanistan and other countries have been asking Pakistan for a long time now to stop providing safe havens to terrorist outfits. Pakistan has so far not acceded to this demand. Now, with formally being asked to play a central role in the Afghan reconciliation process, our military might think it has achieved the desired outcome. Unfortunately, this is a miscalculation. If and when the Afghan Taliban come to power in Afghanistan either through a power-sharing deal or directly once the foreign troops withdraw, Pakistan will be in further trouble. The local Taliban will be the actual beneficiaries of this deal. There will be more terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The only way to deal with it is to break our ties from all terrorist factions and launch a genuine crackdown against them. Peace in Pakistan will return once we realise how faulty our policies have been.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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