Hope over ex­pe­ri­ence

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Mu­nir Akram

THE launch of the Quadri­lat­eral Co­or­di­na­tion Group (com­pris­ing Afghanistan, China, Pak­istan and the US) is the lat­est at­tempt by out­siders to pacify Afghanistan. Like a se­cond mar­riage, it rep­re­sents the tri­umph of hope over ex­pe­ri­ence.

Alexan­der the Great's armies lan­guished in Kho­rasan for a decade. The Bri­tish Em­pire failed in three wars to con­trol the Afghans. The Soviet Union with­drew ig­no­min­iously af­ter nine bloody years. And, Afghanistan has been Amer­ica's long­est war.

The QCG, de­spite its in­fe­lic­i­tous name, was a clever de­vice con­jured by Pak­istan to con­cen­trate the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the four mem­bers and dis­trib­ute the re­spon­si­bil­ity to achieve Afghan rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. The ex­clu­sion of Iran and Rus­sia, both of which have in­flu­ence over Afghan events, may have to be rec­ti­fied if the mech­a­nism be­comes op­er­a­tional.

It ap­pears that ev­ery­one wants a ne­go­ti­ated peace in Afghanistan, ex­cept the Afghans them­selves. The Ghani govern­ment came into the process with doubts and con­di­tions. The Afghan Tal­iban have now re­fused to re­turn to the ta­ble. Mere rep­e­ti­tion of the mantra of an ' Afghan-led and Afghan-owned' peace process will not bring it any closer to re­al­i­sa­tion.

The 'unity govern­ment' in Kabul is any­thing but united in its com­mit­ment to the ne­go­ti­at­ing process. There are known power bro­kers who have in­tro­duced un­re­al­is­tic pre­con­di­tions and dead­lines for progress in the peace process. They re­main averse to ' shar­ing' power with the Tal­iban. They re­sent Pak­istan's in­flu­ence over Afghan events. They seem to be­lieve that if the talks fail, and in­sur­gency es­ca­lates, their for­eign pa­trons will not aban­don them. They ex­pect to re­tain con­trol of their own eth­nic re­gions - and Kabul.

For their part, the Tal­iban have been con­sis­tent in their re­fusal to talk to the Kabul govern­ment which they con­sider a US pup­pet. They want to talk di­rectly with the Amer­i­cans. The quadri­lat­eral mech­a­nism sought to square the cir­cle. But the present is a bad time to ex­pect the Tal­iban to join a di­a­logue process. Mul­lah Man­sour has yet to con­sol­i­date his lead­er­ship. Most of his com­man­ders, in­clud­ing those chal­leng­ing his suc­ces­sion to Mul­lah Omar's man­tle, be­lieve they are win- ning the mil­i­tary strug­gle against Afghan se­cu­rity forces. Sev­eral dis­tricts fell to the Tal­iban even be­fore their sum­mer of­fen­sive. Mul­lah Man­sour no doubt fears an in­ter­nal re­volt if he agrees to talks which can ar­rest the Tal­iban's mo­men­tum.

It is un­clear why ad­viser Sar­taj Aziz was so con­fi­dent in pub­licly as­sert­ing that Is­lam­abad could con­vince the Tal­iban to join the talks.

In the en­deav­our to prove its sin­cer­ity to the ma­jor pow­ers, Pak­istan seems to have cre­ated the worst of both worlds for it­self. As Sar­taj Aziz de­clared, Pak­istan gath­ered some Tal­iban lead­ers to per­suade them to re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. This pub­lic rev­e­la­tion has en­abled Pak­istan's de­trac­tors to val­i­date their long-stand­ing al­le­ga­tion that the Tal­iban are Pak­istan's prox­ies. Dur­ing re­cent Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dis­cus­sions, the Afghan am­bas­sador said that Sar­taj Aziz's state­ment "speaks vol­umes for Pak­istan's in­flu­ence with the Tal­iban".

Ex­pe­ri­ence should have ad­vised against such bold as­ser­tions. Even at the height of its close re­la­tion­ship with Mul­lah Omar's regime, pre- and im­me­di­ately af­ter 9/11, Pak­istan was un­able to con­vince the Tal­iban to sur­ren­der or ex­pel Osama bin Laden. Is­lam­abad was un­able even to per­suade Mul­lah Omar not to de­stroy the Bamiyan Bud­dhas. To­day, af­ter a decade of co­op­er­a­tion with the US-led war in Afghanistan, Pak­istan can hardly ex­pect the Tal­iban to ac­cept its de­mand to take a course of ac­tion they con­sider con­trary to their mil­i­tary or strate­gic ob­jec­tives.

The threat to ex­pel the Tal­iban lead­er­ship from Pak­istan's ter­ri­tory if they do not heed its de­mand to join the talks, could trans­form a tac­ti­cal er­ror into a strate­gic blun­der. This is an empty threat. The Tal­iban now con­trol vast ter­ri­to­ries within Afghanistan and no longer need the 'refuge' some of their lead­ers sought in Pak­istan af­ter the US mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion. If Pak­istan car­ries out its threat, it will lose what­ever in­flu­ence it still has with the Tal­iban and gra­tu­itously add to the list of its en­e­mies in Afghanistan. There are other neigh­bours, in­clud­ing Iran, which would be happy to en­large their present and fu­ture in­flu­ence within Afghanistan.

Clearly, Pak­istan's Afghan poli­cies should be guided by its own na­tional in­ter­est. Preserving the good­will of the ma­jor pow­ers, par­tic­u­larly China, is es­sen­tial. But Pak­istan's pri­mary ob­jec­tive should be to elim­i­nate the TTP's 'safe havens' in Afghanistan and shut down the ' western front' which In­dian agen­cies in col­lab­o­ra­tion with known el­e­ments in Kabul have opened against Pak­istan. It is sur­pris­ing that Is­lam­abad has not im­posed a tighter con­nec­tion be­tween its help in Afghan rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with ac­tion by Kabul and its Western pa­trons against TTP and its cross-bor­der at­tacks against Pak­istan. Equally, Pak­istan can and should strongly de­mand that the Afghan Tal­iban break all links with TTP.

Pak­istan's cal­i­brated pol­icy must also an­tic­i­pate the likely de­noue­ment of events in Afghanistan. While the ef­fort to pro­mote Afghan rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is pro­pelled by hope, ex­pe­ri­ence in­di­cates that, at least in the near term, this en­deav­our is un­likely to be suc­cess­ful. Kabul's se­cu­rity chal­lenges are for­mi­da­ble and once the Tal­iban launch their sum­mer of­fen­sive the sur­vival of the regime could be in ques­tion. As the UN sec­re­tary gen­eral's spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive stated in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, for Kabul "sur­vival in 2016" would be an achieve­ment.

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