Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Mr Sartaj Aziz visited Kabul on Sunday to hold talks with Afghan leadership and assured that Pakistan would extend its full support and cooperation in holding intra-Afghan talks for peace and stability in Afghanistan. He said Pakistan has been trying to help jump start the peace process as a stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s own interest. Aziz said Pakistan had played a role in helping Taliban representatives travel to Qatar and was again prepared to ease the movement of Taliban negotiators and release more Taliban detainees should the Afghan government request it. Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul said that efforts on both sides to strengthen relations, fight terrorism and ignite peace talks “have not been successful”…I hope the new government of Pakistan will open a new chapter in Pakistan-Afghan relations.” President Karzai, while accepting Pakistani Prime Minister’s invitation to visit Pakistan has attached ambiguous preconditions to the visit. It speaks volumes about the prevalent perceptional gaps between the two “conjoint twins.”
On the eve of US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to India, a senior US administration official has said that from Washington’s perspective, India is an essential partner in peace and stable Afghanistan. Not a long while ago, during his visit to India, US Secretary of State John Kerry had said that India could play “central role” in Afghanistan’s elections next year. It underscores the fact that America, even after over a decade long fruitless military engagement in Afghanistan, has not understood the Afghan psyche and has not learnt any lesson. While the time is running out, the US continues to float short term and unprincipled theories.
India is not an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan, American insistence to make it in-charge of post 2014 Afghanistan is fraught with dangers. The real problem in Afghanistan is foreign interference and aggression and that is why Pakistan has all along been insisting that it would support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process of reconciliation and peace.
In the broader context, there’s neither a framework nor much incentive to scale down the conflict in Afghanistan. Recently Fox News reported that right now, “violence is at levels matching the worst in 12 years.” The war in Afghanistan is far from over. Peace remains elusive. Abdur Rashid Dostum has reportedly been working overtime to bolster his militia in anticipation of renewed civil strife.
The dormant US-Afghan Taliban dialogue showed signs of revival during last month, mostly due to the Pakistan’s effort. Inaugural ceremony in Doha brought forth the huge perceptional gaps amongst the vision of three parties to negotiations. The cardinal point is that the political façade of Emirate of Afghanistan, which had melted away after the fall of Taliban government in 2001, now stands revived and acknowledged. Now it is only a matter of time that it receives dejure international recognition. Despite denials, the Doha office is World’s one window contact point with the Government (in exile) of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Doha peace initiative is the latest move in America’s rapid retreat from the war in Afghanistan, a war the US no longer wants to be part of. These peace talks would only be the beginning of a “complex, long and messy” ordeal. America wants to just get out of Afghanistan. In his second inaugural address, President Obama stated, “A decade of war is now ending.” Later in May, he reiterated, “This war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises…” America has had enough of war. America’s will to fight is sapped. American talks with the Taliban show that even a superpower has failed to humble these elements with force.
Taliban opened their political office in Doha with an eye catching ceremony. Language they used closely followed the American framework for peace talks. They indicated intent to distance themselves from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, saying that Taliban’s aims were only within Afghanistan and they did not support the use of Afghan soil to plot international attacks. Coinciding with opening of political office in Doha, Taliban also sent a strong message through a deadly summer offensive in Kabul. In a dare-devil attack, Taliban stormed Presidential Palace and a high profile CIA base in Kabul. Show of strength in the most secure area of the Afghan capital doesn’t necessarily imply that Taliban are averse to peace, it only shows that their will to fight is also intact.
People of Afghanistan have had enough of war; virtually wars of liberation against foreign occupation have continually been waged by successive three Afghan generations. It is time to give Afghans an overdue respite. President Karzai’s political power is poised to follow a fizzling curve as Afghanistan inches towards political transition. Soon the US-Islamic Emirate dialogue would become more robust and meaning full.
Taliban’s self assertion, both militarily and politically, should be understood with all seriousness; attempts to marginalize predominant Pushtun population of Afghanistan would lead nowhere. No one should expect durable peace by handing over Afghanistan to minority ethnic groups. Earlier, Afghan President Karzai had observed that there was dire need for unity of approach between Pakistan and Afghanistan to defeat militancy. There can be no question that the scourge of militancy could best be eliminated by the two neighbours working together. However, signals from Kabul are erratic. Karzai’s chief of staff has recently said that Kabul was concerned about growing closeness between Pakistan and the United States, and that there was still a huge rift with Washington despite top-level efforts to patch up the disastrous fall-out over the Doha office fiasco.
Despite the odds, Pakistan should continue to strive for an all inclusive Afghan solution. It must reinforce its outreach to non-Pushtun political forces in Afghanistan, including all major 2014 presidential candidates. The goal should be to convince Afghanistan’s major stake holders that Pakistan seeks peace and stability for its neighbour and could act as a bridge for an intra-Afghan dialogue.