End-game in Afghanistan - Saleem Safi - Saturday, April 30, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=44409&Cat=9

Why this region descended into bloodshed after 9/11 and how the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan failed to make headway against ragtag militants? Deep reflection has brought me to one answer; faltering unity amongst allies. The militants put their ideological, sectarian, and linguistic differences behind them and rallied round commonalities; but their opponents, especially the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan, were playing games with each other.

The US maintained an untrustworthy relationship with Pakistan, and in return got the same treatment from its ally. It never felt like trusting the Karzai-led Kabul government. Pak-Afghan relations remained tense too. Pakistan accused Kabul of ingratitude and being a pawn in the hands of Pakistan’s enemies, while Kabul accused Pakistan of a double game. Many sane voices who are directly affected by this war have constantly been stressing the need to push the US out of the Pak-Afghan equation and find a local solution to the conflict. But Musharraf did not listen and Karzai could take no such a risk. Basically Musharraf never respected Karzai. He thought that Karzai would be won over to our side if Uncle Sam was happy with him. Karzai also took the same rout and placed all complaints against Pakistan at Washington’s door.

In 2003 I gifted Karzai a book The Imperial Hubris by a US writer with a message that read “for president Karzai with best wishes and longing that he might read this book to understand the US designs and establish direct relations with Pakistan.” The book contains a chronology of US blunders in Afghan land and its designs. During discussions on the book, I reminded Karzai that Pakistan and Afghanistan are deeply interdependent. The foreign invaders in the region would leave it sooner than later. Therefore Pakistan and Afghanistan should stop playing with each other and establish good relations. Instead of bringing Pakistan and Afghanistan closer, the US incites fighting between us because that would serve its purposes. Why don’t Kabul and Islamabad follow the shortest route of Torkham instead of the longest route through Washington?

Karzai swore that he considered Pakistan his second home and gives utmost importance to Islamabad, but genuinely complained against the media here which calls him names like “mayor of Kabul” and holds him responsible for regional conspiracies against this country. He also felt insulted by Musharraf and the Pakistani establishment, who considered him the Karzai of the Cold War era who was living in Pakistan.

Pakistanis and Afghans, especially Pakhtuns on both sides of the border, have suffered tremendously in this regional conflict. However, after so many years of blames and counter-blames, Karzai and Pakistanis have come to the point that the US would never help them solve their mutual problems and therefore should be expelled from the equation between their two countries. First the US tried to hold Pakistan responsible for its failure in Afghanistan and then did the same thing to Karzai. The previous Afghan presidential election brought Karzai and Pakistan closer; Karzai was emboldened to stand up to the US once he found Pakistan on his side. He waited for a few months to observe Obama’s Afghan policies which undoubtedly are as ambiguous as Bush’s. He convened a Loya Jirga to get mandate for reconciliation with the Taliban. The US was not happy with this development, but found it impossible to oppose the decision of the constitutionally most powerful Loya Jirga. Intelligently, Karzai appointed a Tajik, Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani, as head of the Reconciliation Council. The Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami have contacted each other many times over the past few months. Karzai had been insisting that Pakistan and Afghanistan should constitute a joint “reconciliation commission,” but initially Pakistanis did not respond positively. However, Karzai continued with measures to reassure Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the US contempt for both countries crossed the limits pushing them to establish the joint “reconciliation commission” on April 16. Both countries had agreed in principle a few months back to establish the commission, but Karzai wanted that the Pakistani military leadership and the ISI should also be taken onboard. After the ISI chief’s visits to the US and Turkey, Pakistan accepted the establishment of the commission. When the DG ISI, the COAS and the prime minister of Pakistan visited Kabul the commission had already been established. However, it was still undecided whether the foreign ministers would head the commission.

However, Kabul insisted that the chief executives of both countries should head the commission. Pakistan accepted this demand moments before the announcement of the commission. Keeping in view the background, it is safe to state that this commission is the most important development in the context of problems and a right step to solve the conflict.

This time I did not find the opportunity to meet Karzai or his ministers and officials because of the high profile guests from Pakistan. Karzai, like most of us who supported the idea of a joint effort to find solution of the problems, was very happy. However, I thought that important hurdles are yet to be crossed; it is yet to be seen whether Pakistan and Afghanistan become real friends are repeat the past mistakes of playing with each other. Similarly, how much the US is going to support the process and how long the two hold against US wishes and dictates. What would be response of the Taliban and how Al-Qaeda reacts has yet to be known. Most importantly, whether India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey Russia and the US support the initiative or scuttle it through machinations. Also how the bad designs of some these countries are defeated?

The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem. safi@janggroup.com.pk

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