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.
– February 2, 2012