South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Pakistan figures out in Afghan reconciliation efforts
Khalid Khokhar

The strategic relations between the two allies fighting a common war against terror have taken a positive trajectory after a difficult patch of past couple of years. According Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan and the United States have restored full military and intelligence ties to support a nascent Afghan peace process. Many international observers say that full cooperation between Islamabad and Washington is critical to US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before most NATO combat troops withdraw by 2014. President Obama has signed a long-term strategic pact with Kabul to give the U.S. access to Afghan bases until at least 2024 to fight terror. Even after the reduction in NATO’s footprint in Afghanistan,

, the United States will still need the Government of Pakistan's cooperation on certain issues, particularly ensuring supplies reach the Special Operations/intelligence personnel staying back in Afghanistan. Defence strategists in the South Asia believe that Pakistan is a linchpin in rooting out terrorism from the region and US cannot succeed without Pakistan. Bruce Riedel, a former longtime CIA officer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and chairman of ‘the strategic review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan-2009” suggested a way forward if Pakistan can use its leverage to push the Taliban to resume a political process with the US and, more importantly with Kabul Government. Similarly, Pakistan’s foreign minister strongly stressed the need of deep conversations with the US in trying to find common ground on Afghanistan ahead of the scheduled 2014 pullout. Nonetheless, the reconciliation process is likely to be cumbersome but it could make possible an endurable peace in Afghanistan.
In retrospect, once dearly remembered as the non-NATO ally of the US-led coalition forces, found difficulty in maintaining good relations with the US. The problem started when a CIA contractor killed two Pakistani on a motorcycle allegedly attempting to rob him at Jail road near Mozang Chowk, Lahore on January 27, 2010. Months later, US Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden in a unilateral raid by in a densely populated city of Abbottabad on May 2 keeping the Pakistan military in the dark. Then came the November 26 incident where 24 Pakistani troops were martyred in a NATO air strike on two Pakistani army border check posts in Mohmand tribal area bordering Afghanistan. In response, Pakistan not only closed NATO logistics supply lines for the troops in Afghanistan, it also got vacated Shamsi air base in Balochistan used for covert CIA drone strikes on Pakistan's border areas with Afghanistan. Moreso, Pakistan expelled US military trainers and CIA agents and placed limits on the numbers of visas given to US diplomatic personnel. These unpleasant developments widened the mistrust between the two allies and made Pakistan more cautious, vulnerable and insecure. So much so, Ex-Admiral Mullen said publicly that the Haqqani network was a virtual arm of Pakistan's main intelligence agency. A charge Pakistan always jealousy denies and laments those statements by high US officials being unhelpful in bringing about peace and stability in the region.
Despite American rouses, both the countries fighting common war against terror want to get relations back on track “as quickly as possible”. Being the partners in the GWOT, both the US and Pakistan can ill-afford to part their ways. The strategists and experts believe that neither side can afford to go to extremes. Many Americans hail Pakistan as a ‘champion ally’. US Senator John Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the main foreign policy-making body in the US Congress, urged Washington to re-establish a relationship with Islamabad which would go beyond the Afghan crisis. Defence strategists in the South Asia believe that maintaining good relations with the military and civilian leadership is critical, because Pakistan is an important regional player. Bruce Riedel in his article titled “US Options Limited in Pakistan” argues that America must bring Pakistan on their side by recognizing Pakistan’s sacrifices both in men and material in fighting the war on terror. According to Daniel Markey, former State Department official during the Bush Administration, “issuing threats employing sticks, and leaning on Pakistan is precisely the wrong approach. These tactics will tap into distrust about American intentions, aggravate Pakistani insecurities about US abandonment, and increase Pakistani incentives to hedge.” Similarly, for Pakistan it would be an unaffordable loss if the US-led coalition of forces fails in Afghanistan. As a consequence, Pakistan may face regional and international isolation. The sanity requires mending fences and building normal relations, based on understanding each other’s needs and compulsions.
Dr. Barnett R. Rubin, Director of Studies and Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation of New York University, the Senior Adviser to the Special Representative of the President for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the US Department of State on ‘political reconciliation in Afghanistan’ said that the Obama administration believes the core objectives of intervention in Afghanistan i.e. to degrade and weaken the Al-Qaeda as well as to de-link it from the Taliban have been achieved. The US now wants to focus on how to prepare the way to the bulk pullout of foreign troops from Afghanistan. This means a renewed focus on political reconciliation in Afghanistan as well as expectations of Pakistan. The cut-off date for troops’ withdrawal was also aimed at bringing Afghan government, Taliban and regional states together for finding a sustainable solution and to ensure regional stability. Moreover, the US wants to take the neighboring states of Afghanistan on board for reaching out to Taliban and to find a regional solution to the Afghan issue. That’s why Pakistan is so important.
In the past, a number of attempts have been forwarded to achieve a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives so as to bring peace to Afghanistan. The most significant amongst these, were the one hosted by Saudi Arabia in 2008, followed by high level parleys in Dubai. The hosting of “Istanbul summit” in Turkey prior to London conference on Afghanistan, was also aimed to help brothers countries in achieving the objective of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. Serious efforts have begun to identify reconcilable elements in Afghan Taliban ranks following an international endorsement at the London Conference of President Karzai’s reintegration plan. The United States, which wants the integration plan to be operationalised by middle of the year, requires the support of Pakistan. The Pakistan and the United States are systematically identifying their shared interests so that they can act on them jointly. The visits of Afghan High Peace Council head Salahuddin Rabbani to Islamabad, General Kayani’s visit to Kabul and Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul’s visit to Islamabad, are developments leading to the towards peace and reconciliation. Pakistan would also encourage Afghan insurgents to enter into direct talks with President Hamid Karzai's government. The core group, which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US, recently formed a sub-group for providing safe passage to Pakistan-based Taliban who “may wish to move someplace for a reconciliation conversation, peace conversation”. The core group was now working on how to manage that safe passage. Advancing Afghan reconciliation process, Pakistan recently released mid-level Afghan Taliban prisoners to help facilitate peace talks between the militant group and the Kabul government. “For Pakistan today, the most important capital in the world is Kabul, because instability there could spill over into Pakistan, and fuel its own Taliban insurgency" said Pakistani’s Foreign Minister. The political pundits and analysts say that working together to further a reconciliation process that is Afghan-led and supported by Pakistan is critical as Pakistan has a constructive role to play in forging a durable political settlement that will bring an end to hostilities.