Changing regional scenario

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has led a high powered delegation that included COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and ISI chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha to Kabul for consultations with the Karzai government regarding the strategy to be followed for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan in the backdrop of the impending withdrawal of foreign troops. The top level discussions yielded agreement on an upgraded joint commission of which the COAS and ISI chief would also be a part from the Pakistani side, along with the prime minister. The significance of this agreement as opposed to previous joint and trilateral commissions (including the US) is that the Pakistani military and intelligence services will have a place at the table, leading to the hope that whatever strategy is agreed upon will have the backing of all the main stakeholders.

In a joint press conference after the consultations, the Pakistani prime minister and the Afghan president were both at pains to stress that the process of national reconciliation, with its centre-piece being bringing the Taliban in out of the cold, would have to be Afghan-led and -owned. This emphasis derives from the appreciation in both Islamabad and Kabul that after the withdrawal of foreign troops, the two neighbouring countries would have prime responsibility for ushering in a political settlement that could lead to peace in Afghanistan, and by extrapolation, to Pakistan, the region, and arguably the world. The alternative, continuing civil war in Afghanistan, with its implications and spillover effect for neighbouring Pakistan and other regional countries and further abroad, is no longer acceptable.

While both Prime Minister Gilani and President Karzai were clear on the US being on board (finally) regarding the reconciliation process, it needs saying that the Americans are latecomers to the peace feast. Not until the December 2010 Afghan policy review did the weight of opinion inside the Obama administration swing decisively in favour of seeking a way out of the impasse of a seemingly never-ending war. General Petraeus’ strategy of degrading the Taliban and only allowing the reintegration of Taliban foot soldiers in the interim until the Taliban were forced from a position of weakness to come to the negotiating table seems to have been recognised in Washington as not delivering the expected results, despite the troop surge. There is no timeline or verifiable parameters on which to judge the claims of the US military that it is making ‘progress’. The prospect of a war without end finds little favour in the US administration, Congress or the American public by now.

The presence of Generals Kayani and Pasha in the deliberations can be considered a positive sign that all sides are agreed on the essentials: negotiate a share of power for the Taliban to persuade them to give up the insurgency. The compromise strategy on the table is the best option under the circumstances as it would not only lead to a cessation of hostilities, accelerate the foreign withdrawal, restore the whole region to some modicum of normality and stability, but also isolate, arguably, the jihadi forces inside Pakistan, which must then either yield to a farewell to arms, or be ready for the consequences. Endgame in Afghanistan offers hope of peace inside the country and in the region. Freed of that onerous shadow, our military and security forces must gird up their loins to bring to heel the domestic jihadi menace in short order. – Dailytime