Shift­ing sands of Afghan con­flict

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Iqbal Khan Email: won­der­ous101@ gmail. com

AMER­I­CAN Con­gress has been rash in block­ing the sub sidised sale of eight F- 16s, to the Pak­istan Air Force. F- 16 has been the weapon sys­tems of first choice to fight the ter­ror­ists in oth­er­wise in­hos­pitable and in­ac­ces­si­ble ter­rain. Abil­ity of this air­craft to de­liver pre­ci­sion mu­ni­tions have been a ma­jor un­der writer for em­ploy­ing pro­por­tion­ate power, thus keep­ing the col­lat­eral damage— loss of lives of non- com­bat­ant and damage/ de­struc­tion of civil­ian struc­tures and prop­er­ties to the min­i­mum. While F- 16s have never been used against In­dia, this has been cited as a rea­son for block­ing the sale. Iron­i­cally the In­dian cam­paign to block this sale was spear­headed by Pak­istan’s for­mer am­bas­sador to In­dia— Hus­sain Haqqani.

Richard Ol­son, US Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Afghanistan and Pak­istan, had stated in his tes­ti­mony be­fore the sub- com­mit­tee on for­eign af­fairs that the re­quest of $ 743.2 mil­lion in se­cu­rity and civil­ian funds for Pak­istan in 2016- 17 struck the ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ance be­tween long- term de­vel­op­ment and strate­gic mil­i­tary­tomil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion, both of which is in Amer­ica’s na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­est par­tic­u­larly in the re­gion. “The re­quested re­sources re­main cru­cial to ad­vanc­ing co­op­er­a­tion on core ar­eas that mat­ter to us: bol­ster­ing Pak­istan’s coun­terin­sur­gency and counter- ter­ror­ism op­er­a­tions…”

The deal, how­ever, has not been scrapped en­tirely and can still go through as long as Pak­istan ar­ranges to pay the full price of the jets, val­ued at over $ 700 mil­lion. Pre­vi­ously, Is­lam­abad was sup­posed to pay only $ 270 mil­lion while the Barack Obama- led ad­min­is­tra­tion was to pay $ 430 mil­lion in sub­sidy through the US for­eign mil­i­tary fi­nanc­ing bud­get. Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Corker al­lowed Wash­ing­ton to pro­ceed with the deal, but said he would not ap­prove us­ing US funds to pay for the planes. Ad­min­is­tra­tion can find a work­around to off­set the im­pact sub com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion on Pak­istan.

Un­der the dry cir­cum­stances a big sup­port­ive push for Afghan peace process came from the Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Bei­jing— Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. While ad­dress­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony of fifth for­eign min­is­ters’ meet­ing of the Con­fer­ence on In­ter­ac­tion and Con­fi­dence Build­ing Mea­sures in Asia ( CICA) on April 28, he as­sured that his coun­try will play proac­tive role for the suc­cess of peace process in Afghanistan and to seek more in­ter­na­tional sup­port for the coun­try’s re­con­struc­tion. Pres­i­dent Xi fur­ther said, China sup­ports an “Afghan­led, Afghan- owned” in­clu­sive po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process, hopes the coun­try can re­al­ize peace, sta­bil­ity and de­vel­op­ment at an early date.

Since Karzai era, sinking econ­omy, per­pet­u­at­ing cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tent se­cu­rity agen­cies have marred Afghanistan’s do­mes­tic en­vi­ron­ment. No won­ders the fault lines that prompt Afghan lead­er­ship to­wards blam­ing Pak­istan for ev­ery­thing that could go wrong in Afghanistan are snow­balling. At a time when Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani should be un­veil­ing a vi­able po­lit­i­cal frame­work for talks with Afghan Tal­iban, he has taken a yet harsher stance against Pak­istan and the Tal­iban that could fur­ther com­pli­cate the peace process.

Last month, the Tal­iban had re­fused to sit face- to- face with the gov­ern­ment in Kabul un­der the quadri­lat­eral process com­pris­ing Afghanistan, Pak­istan, China and the United States. Fol­low­ing the re­fusal, Pres­i­dent Ghani has been un­der pres­sure to change his pol­icy on peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the mil­i­tant group. In shear frus­tra­tion, he is tread­ing the path that was fol­lowed by his pre­de­ces­sor, which bore no fruit. The sil­ver lin­ing is that the back chan­nel con­tacts to con­vince the Tal­iban to restart the peace process are still func­tional.

Over a pe­riod of time a pow­er­ful lobby has evolved in Afghanistan whose stakes are bet­ter served if the coun­try re­mains in­sta­ble. Ashraf Ghani, oth­er­wise a pru­dent leader is of­ten swayed by this lobby. Who would know bet­ter than him the dy­nam­ics of war econ­omy, and power of the in­ter­est groups thrown- up by such economies. How­ever, he needs to know more about the po­lit­i­cal op­tions ex­er­cised by other coun­tries which came out of sim­i­lar tur­moil that be­dev­ils to­day’s Afghanistan.

While the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is mak­ing an all- out ef­fort to bring Tal­iban back to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble, es­pe­cially through the good of­fices of Quadri­lat­eral Co­or­di­na­tion Group( QCG), Ashraf Ghani pan­ics on every bomb blast and every takeover at­tempt of pe­riph­eral mid­dle or­der ur­ban cen­tre by Tal­iban. “Will no longer seek Pak­istan’s help in peace talks” Afghan pres­i­dent re­torted re­cently. Sur­pris­ingly Ghani wants Pak­istan to bat­tle Tal­iban than try to bring them into peace talks. Pak­istan has re­peat­edly made it clear that it has lim­ited in­flu­ence over Tal­iban.

Afghan Tal­iban have con­firmed that their del­e­ga­tion has vis­ited Pak­istan for dis­cussing is­sues per­tain­ing to refugees, the re­lease of a se­nior leader and other pris­on­ers. A three- mem­ber del­e­ga­tion from the Afghan Tal­iban’s po­lit­i­cal of­fice in Qatar ar­rived in Is­lam­abad on April 25 to dis­cuss the restart­ing of peace talks with Kabul. Afghan of­fi­cials in Kabul had also stated they were aware of the visit but that no meet­ing with the Tal­iban del­e­ga­tion in Pak­istan was held. Some Pak­istani of­fi­cials had ear­lier stated that a meet­ing be­tween the Tal­iban and the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Afghan gov­ern­ment was sched­uled in Is­lam­abad on April 27; how­ever, Afghan diplo­matic sources said, “Kabul is not in the loop about the visit.” It is not cer­tain whether this del­e­ga­tion met the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Kabul gov­ern­ment or other QCG mem­bers; in all prob­a­bil­ity they did.

Ghani has an­grily de­nounced Pak­istan for fail­ing to rein in the Tal­iban. He warned that he would lodge a com­plaint in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil against Pak­istan if the coun­try did not take ac­tion against the Tal­iban lead­ers based on in its soil. There was no ad­mis­sion of se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence fail­ure; not only on the part of Afghan se­cu­rity agen­cies but also the US/ NATO forces. None out of the two part­ners seemed em­bar­rassed at the fi­asco.

There is a need for paradigm shift if the Afghan peace process is to take a sus­tain­able tra­jec­tory, the QCG should con­vince it­self that the Afghan Tal­iban are no more an af­fil­i­ate of the Al- Qaeda, but rep­re­sent a home grown Afghan na­tion­al­ist move­ment. Blam­ing Pak­istan for the Afghan rulers’ fail­ure to ei­ther de­feat the Tal­iban in the bat­tle­field or to coax them to come over to their side is not likely to help any­one. Pak­istan is in no po­si­tion to uni­lat­er­ally en­gage Haqqa­nis mil­i­tar­ily and suc­ceed. It can­not af­ford to open a new front with the en­tity that so far poses no threat to it mil­i­tar­ily. As Haqqa­nis are an in­te­gral part of the Tal­iban un­der Mul­lah Akhtar Mansur, any at­tempt to en­gage them by the QCG ei­ther mil­i­tar­ily or for ne­go­ti­a­tion would be a non- starter. Like­wise, at­tempt to iso­late Pak­istan diplo­mat­i­cally is go­ing to take no­body any­where. For Afghanistan and the US pil­ing pub­lic pres­sure on Pak­istan at the mo­ment ap­pears to be the pre­ferred tac­tic — far re­moved from the broader strate­gic needs of the re­gion. — The writer is con­sul­tant to IPRI on Pol­icy and Strate­gic Re­sponse.

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