Kabul, mon amour - Tanvir Ahmad Khan - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bothered by the heat and dust of Delhi and Agra and irritated by the deliberate lack of symmetry in Indian temples, Babar pined for Kabul. In doing so he etched into the consciousness of the South Asian Muslims an eternal yearning for that fabled city. I arrived there in April 1975 and stayed on for a four year stint of duty. My subsequent professional life showed an obsessive preoccupation for that beautiful but tragic land.

No wonder my heart warmed up to the optics of an extraordinary summit between Pakistan and Afghanistan held on April 17 even before I understood some telling phrases coming out of it, such as ‘Afghan-led solution’, ‘home-based solution and ‘no outside formula’. A few months back we organised a Pakistan-Afghanistan conference at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad which brought an Afghan delegation comprising more than 60 high state functionaries, parliamentarians, and university chancellors and media people. What I kept hearing in our informal conversations was the nagging question if the army and the intelligence services in Pakistan were on the same page as the political government.

On April 17, prime minister’s delegation included General Kayani, General Shuja Pasha, Minister of State Hina Rabbani Khar and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir. That the two sides are close to resolving the ‘duality’ issue was reflected in the coded language of leaders’ statements. President Karzai reassured his nation that it was a different Pakistan; on their side the Pakistanis predictably reiterated that they had always supported peace and stability in Afghanistan. These insights signal a new understanding. Another important message which our talk shows missed was that the leaders were not talking merely of taking ‘ownership’ of the US-led war on terror but also the ownership of the peace process. This is an important milestone as a regional approach can only be built on a strong Pakistan-Afghanistan consensus on the modalities of an effective negotiating process with the insurgents. And it is noteworthy that the initiative has been institutionalised in a joint body. Presumably, Pakistan’s fears that Washington may connive at the Indian design of excluding Pakistan from Afghanistan’s strategic landscape have also abated. That the much talked about Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline can have an Indian spur for the asking alone demonstrates that Pakistan is by no means averse to India’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan.

The meeting has been seen by some analysts as Islamabad and Kabul ‘distancing’ them from the United States; others say that Washington is secretly orchestrating this initiative. A safer approach is to conclude that difference on how to organise a peace process involving the Taliban, the Haqqani Group and Gulbadin Hikmatyar have narrowed and that there is a greater acceptance of a distinct role for Pakistan. Some western pundits will still suggest that Pakistan went to Kabul to ‘thwart’ the US-led peace overtures. The official US approach would become clearer when Robert Gates and some generals fade out this summer and President Obama establishes the contours of his new election strategy.

Pakistan should use the forthcoming strategic dialogue to help the United States develop a realistic and viable regional approach. Washington has to find its way out of the conflicting policy prescriptions by various lobbies especially in regard to India, Iran and China. Unlike India and Iran, China stays clear of internal Afghan politics and yet it may be a major actor in Afghanistan’s national reconstruction and development. Finally there has to be a broad consensus on the long term American military presence in Afghanistan which is likely to be an important feature of their exit strategy.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: katanvir@ yahoo.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=42575&Cat=9

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