"Puppets do not have a brain of their own but tapes installed with a recorded message that comes on every time one touches it; Karzai is a living puppet." Raja Mujtaba

By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Afghan President presented the best facet of his statesmanship when he said in a recent TV interview, "God forbid if any war took place between Pakistan and the United States, we will stand by Pakistan…If Pakistan is attacked and if the people of Pakistan needed Afghanistan's help, Afghanistan will be there with you." He spoke of similar sentiments in the context of an attack on Pakistan by India. In the same breath Karzai said, "Afghanistan is a brother…But, please brother, stop using all methods that hurt us and are now hurting you”.

President Karzai is indeed walking a tight rope to keep a balance in the two triangles: Pakistan-Afghanistan-America and Pakistan-Afghanistan-India; both pulling Afghanistan in opposite directions.

Prospects for a conventional land forces dominated conflict between the US and Pakistan is remote. Likewise, likelihood of a long drawn out conflict between India and Pakistan is also a distant possibility. Hence, Karzai's comments were more of rhetoric. Foreign observers assessed these as a clumsy effort to blunt his recent angry comments about Pakistan and dilute the fallout of recently concluded ‘Strategic Agreement’ with India. Afghan President is known for his summersaults; his next Pakistan bashing spree may not be far away.

American Embassy spokesman in Kabul Gavin Sundwall said, "This is not about war with each other… This is about a joint approach to a threat to all three of our countries." American officials said that Mr Karzai's remarks wouldn't overshadow Hillary Clinton's visit. Karzai and Hillary were on the same wavelength during her trip to Kabul in demanding that Pakistan stop supporting Afghan insurgent groups.

  THE MEN OF STEEL

Soon after the interview was telecast, Karzai’s national security team jumped-in to water-down the spirit of his comments. Deputy national security adviser said, "I think the president's remarks have been blown up without looking at the real context of the message he was trying to convey…"It is a 50 minute-long interview. Of course one or two sentences can't speak for a 50 minute-long interview on a specific subject." Another Afghan official opined, "It was totally careless, unnecessary and, yes, irresponsible…He hasn't pleased anyone except, maybe, a few Pakistani generals."

Earlier this month, Mr. Karzai signed a 'strategic partnership' agreement with India. In all probability, event was timed to coincide with the spell of tense ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, frictions in the Pak-US relations and Hillary’s visit to Pakistan. Pakistan prudently deflected the pressure; Prime Minister Gilani said, "Both are sovereign countries, they have the right to do whatever they want to."

Realizing the failure of unilateral approach, America is working on a number of multilateral regional approaches to resolve the Afghanistan puzzle. American General John Allen recently indicated that Afghanistan needs a regional, not a national solution. Moreover, the United Nations is contemplating a plan for a joint security arrangement in the region, on the yesteryears model of ‘Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe’.  Perception has it that, NATO also has something on cooperative security and development that could be unveiled at the May 2012 summit on Afghanistan.

As regards regional countries, most of them yearn for good neighbourly ties with Afghanistan. They have taken initiatives in individual as well as collective capacities like, TAPI, Uzbekistan-Iran railway line, Provision of Uzbek electricity to Northern part of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s proposed fast cargo railway line to connect Pakistan to Iran via Afghanistan etc. However, hpw the efforts to take all six immediate neighbours on board as a structural entity have not yet succeeded; region's accomplishments on Afghanistan have been more of bilateral achievements rather than multilateral ventures.

  A New Year's Resolution

Distant neighbour India has been going overboard to dominate Afghanistan. It is amongst the largest foreign donors in Afghanistan having dumped nearly US $2 billion over the last 10 years. In the garb of these projects, India has clandestinely positioned its trained soldiers on Afghan soil. Firms engaged in development and social sector works employ ex-Indian servicemen for these assignments. Presence of ex-combatants in a country where acquisition of weapons is not a problem, alongside a shady agreement on the usage of an air base in Tajikistan reveals Indian ambitions to succeed America as neo-colonizer of Afghanistan.

M K Bhadrakumar wrote on 24 Oct for ‘Asia times’ in his piece ‘Pakistan to Play a Major Role in Afghanistan’: “The visit by Hillary Clinton to Islamabad turned out to be yet another defining moment in the endgame in Afghanistan… Clearly, Clinton's was a do-or-die mission… the US has publicly acknowledged the centrality of Pakistan's role in the Afghan endgame…(it) accepted the consistent Pakistani demand that the Haqqanis should be engaged in talks and that excluding them would make the entire process fragile…Clinton conceded repeatedly Islamabad's "legitimate" concerns regarding the Taliban operating out of safe havens on Afghan soil… The US and Pakistan have passed the ‘challenging phase in the last few months’, The heavy pressure tactic to the point of brandishing the sword failed to produce the desired result and is unlikely to work. In sum, Washington sees the futility of visualizing Pakistan as a hostile power and of trying to impose an Afghan settlement that is unacceptable to the Pakistani military. The mantra is to "incentivize" Pakistan by inviting it to play a major role in Afghanistan, but on conditions, which also ensures that the US's strategic interests remain protected. It essentially devolves on conceding Pakistani primacy in Afghanistan and putting the Pakistani leadership in charge of negotiating with their counterparts in Kabul.”

  PESHAWAR: TRAGEDY AND PEACE

Robert Dreyfuss in his recent article in ‘The Diplomat’ “US Considering Afghan Ceasefire” opines: “Hillary Clinton has raised the question of a US ceasefire in Afghanistan. It may be recognition that there’s no military solution to this decade-old conflict… And for the first time in recent memory, Clinton specifically mentioned the idea of an Afghan ceasefire. That means that, in concert with a ceasefire designed to coax the Taliban to the bargaining table”.

Yet, caution is due against complacency; Afghanistan issue is a complicated one. There would be many episodes of one step forward and two backward. Too many actors and interests are criss-crossing the paths. After her visit to Pakistan, Hillary visited Uzbekistan to allure it to allow passage of lethal war materials, destined for Afghanistan. Indeed it was a move to sideline Pakistan. It is refreshing that despite tempting incentives, Republic of Uzbekistan continues to hold on to its principled stance of not allowing the passage of ISAF/NATO military supplies to Afghanistan.

Pakistan is keen to participate in any regional arrangement that could result in stability in Afghanistan. In this context, Turkey is playing a commendable role. All eyes are set on next week’s events in Istanbul. However, no regional initiative under any brand name is likely to succeed which does not include China as an active participant. Especially the concept of ‘New Silk Route’ would be a non-starter sans China. Pakistan should not be expected to become a party to any American scheme to encircle or isolate China. 

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