AfPak impasse

TalibanThe final outcome of the recent high-powered meeting between the US delegation led by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan’s leadership, described by Clinton herself as agreement on 90-95 percent, bodes ill for the people of Pakistan.

Just a couple of days before the arrival of the delegation, General Kayani had signalled Pakistan’s determination to not root out the Haqqanis from their havens in North Waziristan — with or without US aid. The army chief, amongst many others, had quite accurately read the US’s increasing helplessness and desperation to exit from Afghanistan, and dug in his heels. His gamble in rejecting the carrot as insufficient (we don’t need the aid), and the stick as a bluff (they will think 10 times), paid off — and the US was forced to retreat. The US seems to have finally accepted the futility of endeavours to wean Pakistan away from nurturing militant assets.

The delegation made a grand bow to Pakistan’s ‘strategic depth’ doctrine — more, obviously, out of a lack of alternatives and increasing war weariness than anything else. In the presence of complete unwillingness on Pakistan’s part to part ways with its ‘assets’, the US has now decided to pressurise Pakistan to help bring the militants, notably the Haqqani network, to the negotiation table.

Pakistan has long been angling for such an outcome. Perhaps the point was finally driven home to the US after former President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s assassination, and President Karzai’s acidic remark thereafter: that it was delusive to try and talk to the Taliban, Pakistan being the real ‘actor’ to be negotiated with. Pakistan’s establishment therefore appears to have won the long fought for prize.

However, it is too early to strut. The Haqqani network has refused point blank to enter into any negotiations independent of Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura. Understandably, united they stand…. And everyone knows what Mullah Omar’s preconditions are: no negotiations before complete withdrawal of NATO and allied forces from Afghanistan. The Taliban are in no rush to negotiate to be ‘given’ a stake in Afghanistan, based on conditions anathema to them, knowing full well the urgency the US feels now to ‘cut and run’.

They are also confident of Rawalpindi’s (Islamabad being irrelevant to this conversation) support to once again fight their way to Kabul post-2014, and overthrow the Karzai government. This would portend a potentially long drawn out civil war in Afghanistan with devastating consequences. It is a country that has been made to suffer utter ruination at the hands of one foreign power after another, jockeying for influence either via direct invasion or proxy wars. The only viable, and sustainable in the long term, solution is for all foreign intervention to cease in Afghanistan, to allow it sovereignty for a change, to leave the country to Afghans to decide their future as they see fit.

With regard to Pakistan, it remains in obstinate denial of several key facts and their implications for the country: the Islamic extremist landscape is now immensely more complicated than it was during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan; most Islamist extremist organisations in the region have more or less coalesced under al Qaeda’s pan-Islamist ideology; the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates, avowed enemies of Pakistan, are some of those illustrious ex-assets that have support or protection of our friends the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network and al Qaeda.

Why its Frankesteins do not occasion Rawalpindi to pause and rethink its failed strategy has now become nothing less than a stupefying mystery. If the wise men think the Afghan Taliban will not be a source of invaluable support for the likes of the TTP, that double dealing is solely their preserve, they have a surprise in store. – Dailytimes