Afghan im­passe

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL -

WHAT is to be made of Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai's pub­lic ad­mon­ish­ment of the United States in his re­cent state­ments? Th­ese as­ser­tions marred the first visit of the new Amer­i­can De­fence Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel to Kabul. More im­por­tantly they raise ques­tions about the Afghan pres­i­dent's in­ten­tions and role in the po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion ahead, which will de­ter­mine how peace­ful the path will be to 2014 and be­yond.

There are sev­eral ways to read Karzai's com­ments that in­cluded the ac­cu­sa­tion that Washington is col­lud­ing with the Tal­iban to pro­long the war. One in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that such state­ments sim­ply ex­pressed his pique and frus­tra­tion over the un­re­solved dis­pute with the US on trans­fer­ring Afghan de­tainees to his government un­der a pre­vi­ously agreed dead­line. A pres­i­den­tial spokesman ex­plained that Karzai made th­ese pub­lic com­ments when his pri­vately voiced com­plaints to west­ern lead­ers went un­heard.

An­other ex­pla­na­tion might be that as Nato's 2014 with­drawal dead­line and an end to his fi­nal pres­i­den­tial term ap­proaches, Karzai is anx­ious to cast him­self as a na­tion­al­ist and demon­strate that he is no pup­pet of Washington. An in­creas­ingly in­se­cure Karzai may also be lash­ing out at the US to stonewall in­ten­si­fied diplo­matic ef­forts to open talks with the Tal­iban aimed at find­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion - a process that he thinks might marginalise him. In one re­cent state­ment he as­sailed 'se­cret talks' that he al­leged were go­ing on be­tween west­ern coun­tries and the Tal­iban.

This sug­gests that far from be­ing a sud­den out­burst, the Afghan pres­i­dent's charged rhetoric seems a cal­cu­lated move to raise the stakes on a num­ber of is­sues and sig­nal that he can­not be ig­nored in US plans to shape the Afghan endgame. Th­ese state­ments also serve to con­vey that with­out him Washington should not ex­pect to con­clude the Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Agree­ment that would al­low for the pres­ence and le­gal im­mu­nity of Amer­i­can forces be­yond 2014. A pres­i­den­tial spokesman made the link­age quite ex­plicit: "lack of trust" shown by the US over the pris­on­ers and other mat­ters would have "a neg­a­tive im­pact on the Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity

Dr Maleeha Lodhi Agree­ment".

Be­sides jock­ey­ing for lever­age, Karzai has taken a stance on diplo­matic ef­forts to launch peace talks that has in­creas­ingly be­come an ob­sta­cle in the process. This was more than ev­i­dent at last month's sum­mit meet­ing at Che­quers be­tween the lead­ers of Pak­istan, Afghanistan and Bri­tain. On al­most ev­ery is­sue nec­es­sary to move the po­lit­i­cal process for­ward Karzai played the role of spoiler.

He re­jected any more in­for­mal meet­ings be­tween dif­fer­ent Afghan groups and Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives, such as those held in Paris, Ky­oto and Oslo. His vir­u­lent op­po­si­tion led to can­cel­la­tion of the UN-spon­sored Track II meet­ing in Ash­ga­bat that was to con­vene this month. Th­ese dis­cus­sions are widely re­garded as build­ing blocks for for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tions down the road aimed at find­ing a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment.

Pres­i­dent Karzai also re­fused to sup­port the open­ing of a Tal­iban of­fice in Qatar ex­cept on terms that he knows are un­ac­cept­able to oth­ers. The US, Pak­istan and the rest of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity see this of­fice as the venue and start­ing point for sus­tained ne­go­ti­a­tions de­signed to lead to an in­tra-Afghan di­a­logue to pur­sue 'rec­on­cil­i­a­tion'. Although he as­sured Pres­i­dent Obama of sup­port for the of­fice dur­ing his Jan­uary visit to Washington, Karzai sub­se­quently went back on this com­mit­ment.

In Lon­don he made his sup­port con­di­tional on as­sur­ances that the of­fice be used only for talks be­tween the Tal­iban and his government ap­pointed High Peace Coun­cil (HPC) and no other pur­pose. Tal­iban lead­ers have re­peat­edly re­fused to talk to the Karzai government and in­sisted in­stead on di­rect di­a­logue with the Amer­i­cans.

Be­fore and af­ter the Che­quers meet­ing, Karzai is said to have told his na­tional se­cu­rity team that the US, Bri­tain, Pak­istan and the Tal­iban were col­lud­ing in a 'con­spir­acy' to 'oust' him and his government. He also ac­cused Pak­istan of try­ing to deal him out of dis­cus­sions about Afghanistan's fu­ture by seek­ing to bring rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the North­ern Al­liance and the Tal­iban to­gether. He is also re­ported to have sent emis­saries to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to per­suade them to open a Tal­iban of­fice in their coun­try - a trans­par­ent bid to scut­tle the Doha of­fice. Th­ese moves re­ceived no trac­tion in those cap­i­tals but strength­ened the im­pres­sion else­where that Karzai was try­ing to fore­stall the Qatar process.

As the first step to­wards set­ting a peace process in mo­tion is to open the Qatar of­fice, Karzai's ob­struc­tive be­hav­iour has emerged as the prin­ci­pal rea­son for de­lay and the per­sist­ing im­passe over this. If this process has be­come hostage to Karzai's machi­na­tions, this is also be­cause he has been able to ex­ploit the lack of clar­ity in­form­ing the diplo­matic ef­fort so far. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for its part has yet to show the kind of ur­gency that sets a clear di­rec­tion and in­jects mo­men­tum into this ef­fort. More­over, Pak­istan and the US also have dif­fer­ing views about how to end the im­passe and get the peace process go­ing. Amer­i­can of­fi­cials ar­gue that Washington has met sev­eral of the Tal­iban's key con­cerns and the onus now lies with their lead­er­ship. To move for­ward the Tal­iban need to is­sue two state­ments to pave the way for the Doha of­fice to for­mally open.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.