COMMENT: Af-Pak: a peace to end all peace —Dr Mohammad Taqi - Thursday, April 21, 2011

The continued aggressive posturing by the Pakistani establishment, albeit this time with a full civilian façade and on the pretext of seeking peace in Afghanistan, indicates that the already dysfunctional relationship between the US and Pakistan is literally on the rocks

“After the ‘war to end war’, they seem to have been pretty successful in Paris at making a ‘peace to end peace’” –Field Marshal Sir Archibald Wavell.

Lord Wavell, a commander of the British forces in the Middle East and later a Viceroy of India, had been commenting on the treaties bringing World War I to an end and the future shape of the post-Ottoman Middle East, but the mad dash towards ‘peace and reconciliation’ in the Pak-Afghan region over the last two weeks suggests that after a decade-long war, we too may be in for more turbulence, not tranquillity.

The very connotations of the terms truth, peace and reconciliation make it nearly impossible to say anything critical of — let alone contradicting — the process. But when the inimitable host of VOA’s Pashto service, Rahman Bunairee asked me last week to comment on President Asif Ali Zardari’s remarks in Turkey about opening up of a Taliban diplomatic office there, I found it difficult not to be cynical about the whole drama. “Since when does the president have such clout to determine Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis Afghanistan,” I responded. Thinking of Wavell’s words, I added that what appears now to be a solution to a problem will likely be the mother of many larger problems to follow. President Zardari was speaking for the Pakistan Army and the so-called peace proposal — the diplomatic street address for the Taliban included — had been drafted in Rawalpindi. The civilians may have been acting it out, but the script is unmistakably Khaki.

In the last three decades, Afghanistan has gone through ideological, ethno-nationalistic, and religious strife. It has been a battleground in the Cold War as well as in the hot conflict, with regional and global powers pulling it in several directions and ultimately finding it unmanageable. The powers vying for sway over Afghanistan have not only imposed war on Afghanistan but have also attempted to impose peace on it. But just like they have rejected every foreign occupation, the Afghans have also rejected every peace deal thrust upon them. A made-in-Pakistan solution, even if peddled through Hamid Karzai, is no exception and will never be acceptable to the majority of Afghans. But sensing an opportunity in Karzai’s schizophrenic relationship with the US, Pakistan, of course, had to try one more time to meddle in Afghanistan. The world superpowers may not have learned the lesson that they are unwelcome in Afghanistan but neither has Pakistan.

I had noted here last week that the meeting between General Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Leon Panetta has raised more issues than it has solved and that the Pakistani and US interests in the region are divergent. I had also mentioned that starting with the Raymond Davis affair, the Pakistani top brass has opted for bravado directed at the US to redefine the red lines, which have been crossed from a Pakistani perspective. The continued aggressive posturing by the Pakistani establishment, albeit this time with a full civilian façade and on the pretext of seeking peace in Afghanistan, indicates that the already dysfunctional relationship between the US and Pakistan is literally on the rocks. Any further brinkmanship on the part of the Pakistani security establishment may entail an American response, which may not be to the liking of the former. The drone strike immediately after General Pasha leaving the US was not exactly part of a 21-gun salute.

While the Pakistanis believe that the Americans are up to their neck in Afghanistan and the Arab world, they also realise that even without doing something terribly harsh, the US still maintains sufficient leverage through financial means. For example, due to the recent budget deal between the Democrats and the Republicans, the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF) has reverted back to the Pentagon from the State Department, for the rest of the fiscal year. In simple words, General David Petraeus, who remains a key proponent of battering the Taliban before negotiating with them, will continue to have a say in how and when the money flows to the Pakistani security establishment. The State Department, which the Pakistanis consider sympathetic to their ‘legitimate’ interests in Afghanistan, will have to wait its turn. Add to this the recent snub at the IMF and potentially more in the pipeline (depending on how Admiral Mike Mullen’s visit goes) and Pakistan’s limited options become rather evident.

The Pakistani perception, however, continues to be that the US pullout from Afghanistan is imminent and without jostling their way to centre-stage, they may be left out of any future arrangement in Kabul. An India-friendly government in Kabul has remained the ultimate Pakistani nightmare and they are ready to go to any length to avert such a scenario, even if it meant fighting till the last Afghan. To this end the Pakistani security establishment has done everything ranging from harbouring and nurturing the Taliban’s Quetta Shura and the Haqqani terrorist network, to actually taking the Taliban leaders into protective custody of sorts, thus denying the US direct contact with them to initiate a meaningful dialogue. The most important Pakistani concern about the drone attacks remains that they may decapitate the Pakistan-groomed future rulers of Kabul. But as it bets on the American drawdown being on time, Pakistan is also cognisant of the US patience running thin with its antics.

It is in this context of uncertainty about the US withdrawal and events preceding and following it that Pakistan has opted to project itself as the ‘peacemaker’ in Afghanistan. Hoping to pry away Karzai and any others who are hedging their bets for a post-US Afghanistan, the Pakistanis have actually taken a shot in the diplomatic dark. The complete blackout of the Pakistani manoeuvring in the US media and tepid response of the US officials, including Admiral Mullen’s talk in Afghanistan, indicate that the US is about to pour cold water on the Pakistani hopes to rule Kabul again by proxy. A last moment US plan to stay on is well within the scope of the future strategy.

In the Afghan memory, Pakistan, for three decades, has been part of the problem, not the solution. Each time that Pakistan has ‘sponsored peace’ there, rockets have rained on Kabul. Pakistan has miscalculated the Afghan and the US readiness to accept it as a partner in peace and the Gilani-Kayani-Pasha delegation to Kabul is being seen as a too-clever-by-half move to shoulder out the legitimate stakeholders. Unless Pakistan comes clean on the jihadist terrorists it harbours, any peace it sponsors will mean an end of all peace.

The writer can be reached at

Source :\04\21\story_21-4-2011_pg3_2

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