COMMENT: Afghan peace prospects —Mohammad Jamil - Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pakistan is keen to see a strong, stable Afghanistan. By the way, what is wrong with that desire? Iran and the Central Asian republics and, for that matter, any other country would also like to see a friendly and not hostile government in their neighbourhood 

Pakistani and Afghan civil and military leaders held a crucial meeting last Saturday, and agreed on upgrading the joint commission (earlier set up in January 2011) to carry forward the reconciliation process, following the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Prime Minister (PM) Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who held exhaustive talks in Kabul at the Presidential Palace, described the parleys as “historic”, saying, “the two countries stand together as they have shared destinies”. The resolve of the Pakistani and Afghan leaderships to bring peace to the insurgency-torn country is a significant step forward. However, peace prospects look bleak in view of the extreme positions taken by the US and the Taliban. The US insists that the Taliban should renounce violence, abandon al Qaeda and abide by the constitution, whereas the Taliban insist on the withdrawal of all foreign troops. The US, however, has made its intent known about keeping the bases it has established in Afghanistan but President Karzai has reportedly told the US that the future of the bases would be decided in the grand jirga, which would have to be convened for the purpose.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has published a report captioned ‘US and Pakistan are at odds over Afghan solution’, which stated: “Pakistan could seek to completely oust Washington’s influence in any resolution, which given the present situation could be a tough sell.” This report is the handiwork of the anti-Pakistan lobby to malign Pakistan and to exacerbate the existing tension between the US and Pakistan, as the international media have been reporting the US’s desire to find a political solution, and was in favour of softening up the Taliban fighters first. But this idea is fraught, because when the US and its allies could not soften them up, how can they do it within the next three months, when the withdrawal of troops starts? The fact remains that Washington is signalling for a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan imbroglio, and even talking of peace with the Taliban and other insurgent groups. However, it is yet to be seen if the parameters of settlement will be in accord with the ones set out by the leaderships of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as the US is an overbearing occupying power in Afghanistan, and has a soft corner for the Northern Alliance and its principal backer, India.

The US has to understand that whatever success it could achieve in Iraq only became possible after accepting the principle of the right of majority rule there. If the US can work along similar lines, it can win the hearts and minds of the people, the bitterness and the horrors of the long drawn out war notwithstanding. Historical evidence suggests that Pashtuns have either been rulers or kingmakers throughout the history of Afghanistan. And any effort to make them play second fiddle is bound to fail. PM Gilani has rightly said that if the US fails then Pakistan also fails. It means that the stakes for Pakistan are also high, which is why Pakistan is keen to see a strong, stable Afghanistan. By the way, what is wrong with that desire? Iran and the Central Asian republics and, for that matter, any other country would also like to see a friendly and not hostile government in their neighbourhood. It has to be mentioned that the talks in Kabul had followed visits by Pakistan’s top government and military intelligence officials to the US, the UK and Turkey, who could play a key role in backing Afghan government negotiations with the Taliban.

On the Pakistan side also, drone attacks have taken their toll of innocent citizens along with Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. Members of the US administration and commanders feel that American lives are precious and the rest of the people’s blood is cheap. When Americans and Europeans are killed in a terrorist attack like the one on 9/11, the champions of the cause of human rights throughout the world mourn; they light candles and place bouquets at the venue or the graves. But when other people are killed in similar attacks or by the ruthless and callous invaders’ bombings and air strikes in Afghanistan or in drone attacks in FATA, there is no outside mourner. This is one of the reasons that people throughout the world hate the US.

There is a realisation on both sides that the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan have suffered death and destruction for the last three decades. Firstly, when Soviet forces landed in Afghanistan and the US and the West planned the overt and covert operation against them. Secondly, in a civil war — war with the jihadi organisations — and now, once again, the people are the victims of the war on terror. Reportedly, efforts were made earlier to bring the belligerents to the negotiating table but the US did not let President Hamid Karzai talk to the Taliban, arguably to first weaken the militants so that it could talk from a position of strength. President Karzai has realised, though belatedly, that unless the Pashtuns are given their due share in power, there can never be peace in Afghanistan. Since President Karzai, his army chief and intelligence chief, and Pakistan’s PM, chief of army staff and the ISI chief are also members of the first tier of the joint commission, it is hoped that the trust deficit will be removed and a better understanding will develop for peace and prosperity in both countries.

One must appreciate President Hamid Karzai for his efforts to address Pakistan’s concerns. He had sacked Afghanistan’s top intelligence chief and interior minister in the first week of June 2010 for their failure to stop the attack on the grand peace jirga when Karzai was delivering a nationally televised appeal for the Taliban to put down their weapons. While both officials tried to defend their actions, Karzai had expressed his dissatisfaction over their response, prompting Hanif Atmar and Amrullah Saleh to submit their resignations. These men were considered pro-India and anti-Pakistan. The Northern Alliance leaders still believe that Pakistan was behind the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud of Panjsher Valley, which is not true, as al Qaeda has accepted the responsibility for it. Later, it was confirmed that two Arab suicide bombers caused his death. In fact, Ahmad Shah Massoud was not happy with Pakistan over Pakistan’s generous help and support to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and others. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s foreign office has also failed to remove misunderstandings and build bridges with the Northern Alliance after the ouster of the Taliban.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

Source :\04\23\story_23-4-2011_pg3_6

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