With all on board By Hasan Khan - Sunday 1st May 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/01/with-all-on-board.html

THE multi-tier Afghanistan-Pakistan joint commission for reconciliation is a commendable step towards promoting peace in Afghanistan. However, for sceptical Afghans, Pakistan is too late to play a tangible role in the resolution of the Afghan conflict.
Not so long ago, the Afghans — across the ethnic divide — were of the firm opinion that Pakistan was the only country holding the key to peace and stability in Afghanistan. There were few actors directly involved in the Afghan theatre, offering a more conducive environment for Pakistan to play a leading role.
That is the past. Today, in the eyes of independent Afghans thinkers, Pakistan has not only lost that opportunity but also the stature. The scene has been taken over by more powerful and influential actors, both regional and international, who have deeply rooted political, economic and strategic interests and are pushing Pakistan into the background.
Last month, speaking to newsmen in Kabul, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that the war in Afghanistan was destabilising Pakistan. For those who have been watching the Afghan scene since the beginning, this realisation on Islamabad`s part is too little, too late. The Afghan conflict has been threatening global peace and, realistically speaking, Pakistan is facing a threat to its existence.
Apparently, Pakistan`s political and military leadership is taking a simple view of a complex Afghan situation which is evident from the importance Islamabad is giving to the proposed peace commission. Pakistan considers it a big success of its Afghan policy, one which will boost the country`s repositioning strategy post 2014 when the bulk of US and other coalition forces have left Afghanistan. From Pakistan`s perspective Islamabad and Kabul must take ownership of the peace process to end the war, and exclude not only regional actors like Iran, Russia and India but also the US — a party to the conflict — from the process.
This is another slip-up which Pakistan is going to commit simply on the basis of overrating its role, not realising the importance of other neighbours of Afghanistan having political and strategic interests in the conflict. Like Pakistan, with the approach of 2014 when the drawdown of the US-led coalition starts, Iran, India and Russia are also jockeying for influence and repositioning themselves for a post-America era to safeguard their `national` interests.
Prior to ensconcing itself in the driving seat in the Afghan peace wagon, Pakistan needs to assess its own credibility in the eyes of the Afghans and other neighbours. This is essential for the success of the reconciliation process. On the demand of Hamid Karzai, Mr Gilani did the right thing by taking the top military bosses to Kabul to allay Afghan fears regarding differences between Pakistan`s military and its political leadership on the Afghan issue.
The Afghans still believe that Pakistan is part of the problem and the distrust of the security establishment is the product of Islamabad`s flawed Afghan policies pursued for decades particularly during military-led regimes. The policy of insisting on excluding others, particularly its Afghan neighbours, from the peace process is being perceived in Afghanistan as Pakistan`s move to impose its own brand of a solution. If the past is any guide, such unilateral moves not only fail but, in most cases, backfire, inviting more trouble for the people. Pakistan, no doubt, has stakes in the Afghan conflict but it does not mean that others do not.
The peace and reconciliation process initiated by the Afghan president last September is already facing failure — during the last eight months the Burhanuddin Rabbani-led High Council for Peace failed to establish tangible contacts with the Taliban insurgents. It lacks the support and confidence of the people and is poised to face the same fate as that of an earlier commission headed by ex-Afghan president Sibghatullah Mujadadi.
Besides, the trust of the people is essential for the success of any peace process. Pakistan also lacks the trust of Afghan ethnic groups. An Afghan, irrespective of his being a Pakhtun, Hazara, Tajik or Uzbek, still perceives Pakistan, particularly its military establishment, as a major contributor to the Afghan problem.
Like the 49 countries, whose forces are currently fighting the Afghan insurgency, everyone is convinced — whether it is true or not — that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are launching attacks on the coalition and the Afghan forces from their hideouts across the border in Pakistan.
If Pakistan wants to seriously make a positive contribution, it needs to adopt and support an all-inclusive-approach that involves regional and international stakeholders. Iran, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, Britain, the US and Nato all have stakes and established proxies inside Afghanistan. Each one has the ability to scuttle any peace process if not taken into confidence.
In the current scenario, it would be naïve of Pakistan to shoulder the entire responsibility of reaching out to the Taliban. Instead, to avoid any humiliation in future, Pakistan should campaign for engaging all the stakeholders including India in the process of forming any set-up in Afghanistan. Ideally, Pakistan and Afghanistan must convince the UN to take the front seat in the reconciliation process. Here the international body needs to adopt a realistic all-inclusive-approach.
To date, most of the debate regarding the future of Afghanistan is hovering around the Taliban`s anticipated demands, based on presumptions, forecasting major changes in the Afghan constitution, and power-sharing with the Taliban in case the insurgents agree to reconcile.
The Taliban are exclusively a body of fighters — they have no political wing to conduct peace negotiations. Prior to working on engaging the Taliban in the process, which definitely will take time, the international community must catch the other end of the rope and finalise a package in case the Taliban show willingness to join the peace process in the future. This will serve as seriousness of purpose on the part of the international community and send a strong and positive signal to the Taliban insurgents.
The UN needs to convene a purpose-oriented meeting of all stakeholders including the US, Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Nato, etc and evolve a common agenda for approaching the Taliban insurgents. It will lead to the wrapping up of all the outlets opened by individual states or stakeholders and pool all efforts for a major impact, both moral and political, on the peace process.
The writer is the director of news and current affairs for Khyber TV.

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