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Khar’s mission to Kabul a defining moment

The Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to Kabul has been productive. Two outcomes could be noted. One, President Hamid Karzai will be visiting Islamabad on February 16-17. Two, Pakistan is wisely broadening its networking with Afghan groups. Indeed, there are sub-plots, too. 

Karzai’s readiness to visit Islamabad underscores that Afghanistan and Pakistan would like to carry forward the current ‘thaw’. The impetus comes from their shared dismay over the United States’ pushy agenda of holding direct talks with the Taliban bypassing Kabul and Islamabad and striking a deal that serves US’s geo-strategies interests in the region. 

The latest ‘leak’ of a NATO document listing Pakistani ISI’s support for the Taliban actually showed up a desperate US attempt to undercut the nascent bonhomie between Kabul and Islamabad. Khar nicely poured scorn on this attempt by calling it a “potentially strategic” leak. Anyway, the ‘leak’ didn’t have the desired result and may, in fact, have deepened the Pakistani suspicions regarding US intentions in general. 

Pakistan’s interests are served best if the peace talks are ‘Afghan-led’. Khar’s meetings with the erstwhile Northern Alliance’s leaders are, therefore, very significant. She reportedly met Hazara leader Mohammed Mohaqiq, Jumbish leader Faizullah Zaki and the Tajik leader Younus Qanooni. 

Pakistan’s diplomacy would do well to create goodwill with NA groups so as to win their confidence by addressing their legitimate apprehensions regarding a Taliban takeover, especially now that the US is showing signs of bringing forward to 2013 the termination of the NATO’s combat mission, which was originally set for 2014. The US is having a tough time holding the NATO flock together on the Afghan war front. 

Thus, the time is propitious fpr Pakistan to step up its diplomacy with the Afghan groups. All three NA leaders whom Khar met are quintessentially Afghan nationalists who are keen to play a constructive role in Afghan politics provided a level playing field becomes available. 

Conversely, Khar also needs to realise that their ‘non-cooperation’ or unwillingness to cooperate with a peace deal involving the Taliban can seriously harm the prospects for enduring peace in Afghanistan. For, they represent political groups with substantial grassroots support in the non-Pashtun regions. 

A dramatic turn in the tortuous journey along the road to peace can only happen if Pakistan succeeds in convincing the Afghan public opinion that it is open to a genuinely broad-based government. Khar did well to affirm Pakistan has no ‘hidden agenda’. The challenge is to translate this assurance into practice in political terms. 

Pakistan’s great advantage is that it wields influence over the Taliban. Pakistan should use this influence to bring Taliban, Karzai government and the (non-Taliban) Afghan opposition to sit within the peace tent and begin to negotiate the terms of their cohabitation. The best venue for such talks should be Pakistan and/or Afghanistan. If peace is a realistic objective to attain, why bother to travel all the way to Qatar or Saudi Arabia or Turkey in search of it? The Middle East has its own woes and Afghanistan would do well not to get mixed up with them. 

Clearly, there is need to bring Iran into this as well. The convergence of interests between Iran and Pakistan in the Afghan situation has never been so dense as today. Perhaps, it is time for Pakistan to schedule the next trilateral summit with Afghanistan and Iran. Given the acuteness of the regional security scenario, Pakistan should host this summit without further delay. 

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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3 Responses

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  1. Venkat says

    Looks plausible. However, the non-Taliban, would want some external assurance that Pakistan is going to stick to what it says. History has shown that as far as Pakistan is concerned, words mean nothing. Actions speak louder than words. This the non-Taliban groups know very well. As far as they are concerned, Pakistan is Taliban and vice versa. So the question is who can make sure that Pakistan/Taliban sticks to its words. Therein lies the hitch. It has to be somebody NA and Hazara folks trust and somebody who will continue to hold their interests and somebody who is powerful enough to make Pakistan “see reason” if they create trouble. And ultimately it has to hold after the US leaves, and it eventually has to accomodate whatever interests US has after it leaves.

    Clearly it has to be someone who wields enormous influence on Pakistan and someone who NA trusts and someone who can eventually chip in for NA with “resources” if things go awry. NA trusts India, Iran, Tajkistan and Russia. Saudi Arabia and China wield Enormous influence on Pakistan. If things work out eventually the US has to accept these talks.

    Thus it has to be a combination of one from each camp.

    Iran will not be acceptable to US.
    Tajkistan is yet to mature interms of their political setups OR economy to be able to take the burden of Afghanistan.
    China is distrusted by NA as it is closely allied with Pakistan and was previously supporting (allegedly) the Taliban.
    India will not be acceptable to Pakistan and its extension the Taliban.

    That leaves the most plausible candidates as a combination of Saudi Arabia and (ironically) Russia for directly involving themselves in the talks. Russia has made some recent overtures to Pakistan, so Pakistan (Taliban) will not have a problem accepting them. Russia is also a veto wielding member of security council. India can provide behind the scenes support to NA, and will be confident that Russia is there to take care of its interests. US will have to grudgingly accept this, but it will if the end result ensures their interests.

    So whatever talks Karzai attempts to do, for the endgame it is important to bring Saudi Arabia and Russia on board, to make things credible. Looks like he is roping in Saudi Arabia. Eventually he will have to bring in the Russians.

  2. jason ho says

    Another keen observation on the part of the writer. The big difference between the “Outsiders” (USA and Europe) and the “natives” of the region (Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan) is this. Nato has given up on the prospect of a peaceful united government for Aghanistan. In fact Nato prefers this region to be in permanent turmoil and flux. That is where their strategic interests lie. After coming to a decision to recover from their military “overreach” in this theatre, Nato is looking for a reliable force who owes the Nato in a big way and who then would be amenable to manipulation and dominance. The Taliban is a distinct likely candidate. Afterall they had been America’s ally not that long ago. The Iranians, the Pakistanis, the Russians and the Chinese would not be too thrill with a strong Taliban/Nato force in their neigbourhood though

  3. rockytorque says

    u.s. withdrawal would decrease utility of many countries to u.s. whom it was keeping in good humor merely to sustain its afghan presence.so would this coupled with lessening of its economic woes lead to more assertive u.s. policies towards countries in this region and elsewhere.countries which rely on u.s. and europe for their growth should brace themselves for decreased exports and foreign direct investments.

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