South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Karzai’s belated realisation
Mohammad Jamil

President Hamid Karzai has been protesting on collateral damage as a result of NATO strikes and operations in which hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed.

On Pakistan side also, drone attacks have killed more of innocent citizens than the Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives. Unfortunately, members of US administration and commanders feel that Americans lives are precious and the rest of the people’s blood is cheap. When Americans and Europeans are killed in a terrorist attack like the one of 9/11, the champions for the cause of human rights throughout the world mourn; they light candles and place bouquets at the venue or their graves. But when other people are killed in similar attacks or by the ruthless and callous invaders’ bombings and air strikes on the innocent people in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, there is no outside mourner. Apart from American leadership’s arrogance and other flawed policies, this is one of the reasons that people throughout the world hate America.

Pakistan government and Afghan government draw flak from its citizens for loss of life due to American strikes. And it is due to this realization on the part of Pakistani and Afghan leadership that civil and military leaders from both sides held a crucial meeting on Saturday, and agreed on the formation of a joint commission to carry forward the conciliation process, because occupiers have to leave sooner or later, and Pakistanis and Afghans have to stay here, as they cannot change the geography of the region. And of course they have common destiny. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who held exhaustive talks in Kabul at the Presidential Palace, described the parleys as “historic”, saying that “the two countries stand together as they have shared destinies.” Prime Minister Gilani said that he in consultations with President Karzai, Chairman Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and members of the High Peace Council, had agreed to establish the two-tier Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission for facilitating and promoting reconciliation and peace.

Gilani extended Pakistan’s full support to the efforts of President Karzai and the High Peace Council, for initiating an inclusive process of grand national reconciliation in which all Afghans not only have a stake but the process also promises future peace and stability in their country. He said that the restoration of stability and peace in Afghanistan was also essential for peace, security and well-being of the people of Pakistan. The joint commission to support eventual peace talks between the US-backed Afghan government and the Taliban guerrilla movement apparently has the blessings of the US. However, it is yet to be seen how much free hand President Hamid Karzai has in reaching any agreement with the Taliban. Anyhow, talking to the reporters after the meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said: “I assure president Karzai that Pakistan strongly supports an Afghan-led process for reconciliation.”

The talks in Kabul had followed visits by Pakistan’s top government and military intelligence officials to the US, the UK and Turkey, and all of them are likely to play key role in backing Afghan government negotiations with the Taliban. Since Pakistan military and premier intelligence agency are also on board, no one can cast aspersions on the military and the ISI that they are impediment in the peace with Afghanistan. Till recently, President Hamid Karzai and Afghan officials have been accusing Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate of backing Taliban attacks on Afghan government and Indian targets. However, addressing the press conference after meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Afghan President said: “Pakistan’s role as facilitator in the peace process is important,” Karzai said, adding that there is a positive change in Pakistan’s attitude and stance towards Afghanistan. In fact, he had misunderstood Pakistan, now he has realized the ground realities and changed his stance. He of course deserves approbation for expressing his trust in Pakistan.

Pakistan has always helped in the past, be it Soviet invasion or accommodating millions of refugees. At the present, Pakistan and Afghanistan both need each other. Afghanistan is facing death and destruction for the last three decades; firstly when Soviet forces landed in Afghanistan and the US and the West planned the overt and covert operation against them. Secondly, in a civil war – war between the jihadi organizations, and now once again people are the victims of the war on terror. Reportedly, there were efforts to bring the belligerents to the negotiating table but those efforts were half-hearted ones, as America did not let President Hamid Karzai talk to the Taliban. Since America and NATO allies have realized that they cannot win the war in Afghanistan they started talking about negotiations with the Taliban in case they renounce violence and dissociate with Al Qaeda. Persident Karzai has also realized, though belatedly, that unless the majority Pushtans are given their due share in power, there can never be peace in Afghanistan. Earlier, President Karzai’s hands were tied up in the sense that the US administration had given the CIA a free hand in the region which in cahoots with Indian RAW and Mossad pursued the policy of keeping Pakistan out of the loop.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have chequered history of relations. From King Zarhir Shah to Sardar Dawood to President Najibullah Khan, the relations remained strained between two brotherly countries. But President Karzai has now realized the eidetic reality that Pakistan can play a pivotal role in building bridges between Afghan government and a faction of the Taliban. For the last few months, President Karzai had taken certain measures to showcase his desire to mend fences with Pakistan. He had sacked Afghanistan’s top intelligence chief and interior minister in the first week of June due to their failure to stop attack on the grand peace jirga when Karzai was delivering a nationally televised appeal for the Taliban to put down their weapons. While the both officials tried to defend their actions, Karzai was dissatisfied with their response, prompting Hanif Atmar and Amrullah Saleh to submit their resignations. From these actions, it was obvious that President Karazai did not see eye to eye with the Northern Alliance, which is pro-India.

However, the US has its own priorities, compulsions and designs. The Semi-annual White House report to Congress issued last month to judge progress or otherwise towards key objectives of the war in Afghanistan and operations against al Qaeda in Pakistan has stated that Pakistan lacks a robust plan to defeat the Taliban. The report notes a deterioration of the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the country’s northwest alongside the Afghan border between January and March this year. The report however acknowledges that “tremendous human sacrifices” were made by Pakistani forces in the region, but concludes “what remains vexing is the lack of any indication of ‘hold’ and ‘build’ planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations”. The problem is that they are neither willing to address Pakistan’s concerns nor do they realize that Pakistan military is already overstretched, and if military operation is extended to other areas, it could prove counter-productive.