The peace doves are taking to the skies above the Hindu Kush in droves. So many have appeared that it is becoming difficult to tell which are the clay pigeons. The New York Times says talks have begun in Qatar between the American and Taliban diplomats. Yesterday’s news was that talks would commence in a few weeks.
Marc Grossman, US special representative (whom Pakistan embargoed and who therefore chose to travel to Qatar via Delhi), apparently has had meeting with his Taliban counterparts. Wonder if Grossman told the folks in Delhi what was on his mind. Unlikely, though. Even after Grossman’s consultations in Delhi, India still regards the Taliban
as forces of darkness.
Never mind. India is peripheral and its opinions are of no consequence to Washington, which is already working out the modalities of transfer of the Taliban POWs in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, as demanded by Grossman’s Taliban counterparts. Grossman apparently finalised the POW deal while in Qatar.
Now, when everything seems to be going honky dory, President Hamid Karzai abruptly muddies waters. His aides have revealed that on yet another track, Kabul government is also planning to engage the Taliban
— but, in Saudi Arabia. A senior aide said, “Even if the Taliban office is established in Qatar, we will obviously pursue other efforts in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”
What one can make out from this bizarre development is that although the Americans twisted Karzai’s arm to such an extent that it really would have hurt like mad and might have forced him to sit on the floor and cry ‘Da, da, da, da, da‘ repeatedly to Qatar, he probably didn’t have his heart in it and his distaste for Qatar lingers like a foul smell in the mouth.
Evidently, Karzai sees that the Americans and Qataris get along like a house on fire and may strike a secret deal at some point over finessing the Taliban, which would be at his expense. So, he is likely ensuring he too has an act of his own where he is in command. Karzai is smart enough to capitalise on the suspicions Saudis too harbour about these Qatari upstarts who think no end of themselves as the new regional powerhouse in the Persian Gulf, usurping the House of Saud.
But that isn’t all. Karzai is also looking hard at the Pakistani offer lying on his table to resuscitate their bilateral civil-military commission for engaging the Taliban in reconciliation talks. The only hitch is that he insists that before he visits Islamabad again, a Pakistani VIP should first travel to Kabul and formally invite him. Protocol is protocol, after all. Accordingly, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is travelling from Islamabad to Kabul
on Wednesday to meet up with Karzai.
However, the real stunner is that Afghanistan and Pakistan are also preparing the next session of their trilateral forum with Iran — yes, the very same Iran which is besieged currently by 3 American aircraft carriers and British destroyers in the Strait of Hormuz. It seems President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad may travel to Islamabad to meet up with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts Karzai and Asif Zardari at a summit meeting in February.
Clearly, the peace process is mutating uncontrollably. Some expert surgical intervention will be needed at some point and that is going to be messy since the mutation is happening so rapidly. The crucial challenge for the oncologist is going to be to determine which one is the real, genuine, benign Taliban and which one is the malignant pretender — the one in Qatar, Saudi Arabia or in Pakistan’s Quetta and North Waziristan. It all boils down to making out the real clay pigeons. Only a seasoned falconer can tell. Pakistan knows, for sure, but it won’t tell — at least, not until 2014.