Beginning of a charm offensive

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent interview with a local TV channel has been making headlines in the region. Talking about an attack on Pakistan by either the US or India, President Karzai said, “Anybody that attacks Pakistan, Afghanistan will stand with Pakistan. Afghanistan will be a brother of Pakistan. Afghanistan will never betray a brother.” When chairman Afghan Peace Council, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated, the Afghan intelligence pointed at Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura as being responsible for the suicide attack. President Karzai then said that instead of talking to the Taliban directly any more, Afghanistan would talk to Pakistan, implying that our military establishment controls the Afghan Taliban. It seems that Mr Karzai’s recent interview is in a way trying to placate Pakistan’s military establishment. This is nothing short of a charm offensive where the Afghan president is trying to persuade Pakistan to soften its position vis-à-vis strategic depth in Afghanistan. “Please stop using all methods that hurt us [Afghanistan] and that are now hurting you [Pakistan]. Let’s engage from a different platform, a platform in which the two brothers only progress towards a better future in peace and harmony,” said President Karzai. This is a clear reference to Pakistan’s overt and covert support to the so-called ‘good’ Afghan Taliban. Mr Karzai is right when he says that this policy has not just hurt Afghanistan, Pakistan is also paying the price of supporting terrorists. By differentiating between the Afghan Taliban and the local Taliban, Pakistan has made a big mistake. The attacks from across the border by the local Taliban should be proof enough for our military that the Afghan Taliban are not just harbouring the Pakistani Taliban but helping them with their attacks on Pakistani soil.

On the other hand, the US seems keen on negotiating with the Taliban. When asked whether the US expects Pakistan to militarily tackle the Haqqani network or force them to the negotiating table, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “It’s more the latter.” There is now an emerging consensus internally, regionally and internationally that peace and stability will return to the South Asian region through talks and a political settlement with the militants. Ten years after fighting the Taliban in difficult conditions, the US-led NATO forces have not been able to crush them. Other options were first explored but later General Petraeus’ surge approach did not work. The key to a settlement in Afghanistan lies with the Pakistani military, which is what Afghan President Karzai also hinted at. He was not addressing the Gilanis and the Zardaris when he talked about Pakistan. That our security establishment has been stoking insurgency inside Afghanistan is no secret. If our military remains recalcitrant and stubborn by not stopping this insurgency, a new civil war in Afghanistan is all but inevitable. Even though peace deals have not worked out in the past and we do not know at this poinyt whether they will be successful in the future, a political settlement may lead to the elimination of safe havens on both sides of the Durand Line. It is hoped that a combined strategy of political and military means will bring back peace in the war-torn region. It is equally important to root out safe havens from both sides of the border. The Afghans deserve peace after decades of civil war, a barbaric Taliban regime and a 10-year-long war. Pakistan, too, needs to put an end to its flawed policies if peace, stability and progress are to be achieved.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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