Of ties and trust

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

ON an in­vi­ta­tion by For­eign Min­is­ter Hina Rab­bani Khar, Afghanistan’s High Peace Coun­cil was to send a del­e­ga­tion to Pak­istan months ago, but it was de­layed un­til now. One ap­par­ent rea­son for the de­lay was Kabul’s con­cern that the visit won’t be able to achieve any­thing un­less Is­lam­abad was able to per­suade the Tal­iban to agree to di­rect talks with the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

As the sit­u­a­tion hasn’t changed a bit and the pos­si­bil­ity of talks be­tween the Tal­iban and the Afghan gov­ern­ment is still im­prob­a­ble, the trip by the High Peace Coun­cil head Salahud­din Rab­bani and his del­e­ga­tion to Pak­istan is un­likely to achieve any­thing worth the ef­fort.

The visit, how­ever, is some­what im­por­tant be­cause it is the first by Salahud­din Rab­bani to Pak­istan as the chair­man of the coun­cil af­ter hav­ing suc­ceeded his fa­ther, Pro­fes­sor Burhanud­din Rab­bani, who was killed in a sui­cide at­tack al­legedly car­ried out by the Tal­iban in Kabul on Septem­ber 20 last year. The younger Rab­bani, though, isn’t new to Pak­istan as he lived in Peshawar for a num­ber of years along with his fam­ily dur­ing the Afghan ji­had and is fa­mil­iar with the coun­try and its peo­ple. It would still be un­re­al­is­tic to at­tach too many hopes to the visit in view of the ground re­al­i­ties.

In April 2012, Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai ap­pointed Salahud­din Rab­bani as the chair­man of the 70-mem­ber High Peace Coun­cil, which has achieved lit­tle in its two-year ex­is­tence. His ap­point­ment was pri­mar­ily due to po­lit­i­cal and emo­tional rea­sons as he hap­pened to be the el­dest son and suc­ces­sor of the slain leader of the Jamiat-i-Is­lami, a re­li­giopo­lit­i­cal party of mostly eth­nic Ta­jiks who, af­ter hav­ing fought the Tal­iban for years, was will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate peace with the Pakhtun-dom­i­nated, Mul­lah Mo­ham­mad Omar-led Is­lamic move­ment.

The late Rab­bani had also un­der­taken a trip to Is­lam­abad in the hope of con­tact­ing the Tal­iban lead­ers hid­ing in Pak­istan, and had re­turned empty-handed. The same could hap­pen to Salahud­din Rab­bani un­less the Tal­iban lead­er­ship is per­suaded to make a fun­da­men­tal shift in its pol­icy of not recog­nis­ing the Afghan gov­ern­ment and re­fus­ing to in­ter­act with it at any level.

That seems un­likely at this stage and one could, there­fore, say even be­fore the Afghan del­e­ga­tion sets foot in Pak­istan that the visit will be an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity. All Pak­istan can do at present is ar­range a meet­ing of Salahud­din Rab­bani with the de­tained Afghan Tal­iban leader Mul­lah Ab­dul Ghani Baradar and oth­ers, or hand them over to Kabul, but this won’t solve the prob­lem be­cause Mul­lah Omar has a stand­ing pol­icy that no Tal­iban fig­ure can ne­go­ti­ate on be­half of his move­ment un­less specif­i­cally as­signed this role. De­tained Tal­iban lead­ers cer­tainly can­not rep­re­sent Mul­lah Omar and his move­ment in any talks of such an im­por­tance.

A num­ber of things need to hap­pen be­fore one can be­come op­ti­mistic about the pos­si­bil­ity of a di­a­logue be­tween the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the Tal­iban. The US, as the pa­tron of the big­gest mil­i­tary and eco­nomic as­sis­tance to the Karzai gov­ern­ment, holds the key to break the stale­mate be­cause Kabul would have to be em­pow­ered to take de­ci­sions that would con­vince the Tal­iban that Pres­i­dent Karzai or his High Peace Coun­cil aren’t pow­er­less. Fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s re-elec­tion, his ad­min­is­tra­tion could con­sider restart­ing the stalled Qatar peace process with the Tal­iban and in­vest­ing more time and re­sources into find­ing a po­lit­i­cal, in­stead of a mil­i­tary, so­lu­tion to the Afghan con­flict. The US would have to play an in­stru­men­tal role in re­mov­ing the names of Mul­lah Omar and other Tal­iban lead­ers from the UN ‘black-list’ so that they could travel and pos­si­bly en­ter into ne­go­ti­a­tions with the US and the Afghan gov­ern­ment in fu­ture. It would also have to take back its an­nounce­ment of head-money placed on the Tal­iban lead­ers to make any peace talks mean­ing­ful. One of the most im­por­tant con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures would be to free Tal­iban pris­on­ers in Guan­tanamo Bay and Ba­gram, not un­con­di­tion­ally but as part of a swap for the US sol­dier, Bowe Bergdahl, who is in cus­tody of the Haqqani net­work, for the last three years. Ob­vi­ously, the Tal­iban too have to make some con­ces­sions if all this were to hap­pen.

Kabul could also ar­gue that the Tal­iban are pow­er­less and that Is­lam­abad holds the key to over­come the im­passe, but it seems it is be­ing un­re­al­is­tic with re­gard to Pak­istan’s influence over Mul­lah Omar and his Rah­bari Shura, or Lead­er­ship Coun­cil. Is­lam­abad cer­tainly has some influence over the Tal­iban as a num­ber of their lead­ers are based in Pak­istan, but this isn’t of a de­ci­sive na­ture. And any co­er­cive move by Pak­istan to dic­tate terms to the Tal­iban could harm its own in­ter­est, alien­ate Mul­lah Omar and his men from Is­lam­abad and even force them to take a more hard-line stance on end­ing the Afghan con­flict.

Why would Pak­istan ap­pre­hend and keep in its cus­tody Tal­iban lead­ers, around 30 ac­cord­ing to Tal­iban sources, in­clud­ing im­por­tant ones like the move­ment’s deputy head Mul­lah Baradar, his pre­de­ces­sor Mul­lah Obaidul­lah who died in the cus­tody of the In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI), late Maulvi Yu­nis Khalis’ son An­warul Haq Mu­jahid and Us­tad Mo­ham­mad Yasir, if it was sure of its con­trol over the Tal­iban move­ment? Why did Pak­istan hand over some Tal­iban lead­ers such as for­mer in­te­rior min­is­ter and Guan­tanamo Bay prison de­tainee Khair­ul­lah Khairkhwa to the US and sev­eral oth­ers, in­clud­ing Ak­bar Agha and Us­tad Yasir, to the Afghan gov­ern­ment if it wanted to un­con­di­tion­ally oblige the Tal­iban? In fact, an el­e­ment of dis­trust ex­ists be­tween Pak­istan and the Afghan Tal­iban due to past events and also in con­text of fu­ture sce­nar­ios in the re­gion. This can­not bode well for the sta­bil­ity of the Pak-Afghan bor­der ar­eas.

It is also im­por­tant to defuse the ten­sion on the Du­rand Line bor­der be­tween Afghanistan and Pak­istan be­fore ex­pect­ing the two coun­tries to sin­cerely co­op­er­ate with each other to end the Afghan con­flict, re­store peace and fight ter­ror­ism. In­fil­tra­tion by mil­i­tants from Pak­istan into Afghanistan is still a prob­lem, and since 2011 cross-bor­der at­tacks by Afghanistan-based Pak­istani Tal­iban led by Maulana Fa­zlul­lah into Chi­tral, Up­per Dir and Lower Dir dis­tricts and Ba­jaur tribal re­gion have con­trib­uted to the tense sit­u­a­tion on the Du­rand Line. On the other hand, In­dia’s grow­ing influence in Afghanistan has been caus­ing un­ease in Pak­istan. In fact, the tim­ing of Salahud­din Rab­bani’s visit to Pak­istan has co­in­cided with Pres­i­dent Karzai’s trip to In­dia and the sign­ing of four more agree­ments of co­op­er­a­tion in var­i­ous fields. Al­though Afghanistan as a sov­er­eign coun­try has ev­ery right to take any de­ci­sion re­gard­ing its for­eign re­la­tions.

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