South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Advancing Afghan Reconciliation Process
Khalid Khokhar

The statement of NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen saying that Pakistan must play a positive role in bringing stability to Afghanistan came as a big surprise in the diplomatic circles of Pakistan. Pakistan is the most affected country due to perpetual instability and violence in Afghanistan, hence acting in its own interest; it has always been trying hard to explore every possible avenue for a long-term regional stability that includes durable political settlement in Afghanistan. Ever since March 2004, Pakistan is confronted with the threat of Talibanization which has spread from the autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border deeper into the NWFP, with Swat becoming a major stronghold for Pakistani Taliban.

According to a report compiled by Pak-US business council (2009), Pakistan’s economy has suffered a huge loss of over $ 40 billion due to its anti-terror campaign. Pakistan’s economic mega projects with Afghanistan including TAPI are linked to peace and stability in Afghanistan. Allowing Pakistan to develop its trade with Central Asia, has the great potential of generating revenues for Afghanistan and creating an economic interdependence. On the other hand, land-locked Afghanistan remains heavily dependent on Pakistan’s lukewarm waters for its trade with the rest of the world. Therefore, upholding the national interest, Pakistan is earnestly working with Afghanistan to mitigate suspicions or misunderstandings. All this hinges on the on-going peace and reconciliation efforts that US Secretary of State John Kerry is undertaking by hosting talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and senior Pakistan officials in Brussels with the aim of easing friction between often feuding neighbours having a common and porous border of over 2,600km. Although this new wave of reconciliatory drive seems in the right direction, but the road to any Afghan peace initiative clearly is going to be very tumultuous and chaotic.
The mistrust and confusion” among key players — the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan —had floundered the peace effort. Pakistan has shown support at the highest level for any track of dialogue that the Afghans deem important, yet Islamabad has been accused of delaying the talks. The relations became worst from bad when Aimal Faizi, spokesman for President Hamid Karzai alleged that Pakistan's ulema council has allowed sending suicide bombers to Afghanistan because of the international military presence in Afghanistan. The tempers on the both sides flared again when Karzai government accused Pakistan of issuing harsh preconditions for negotiations on a peace deal with the Taliban. The analysts and officials say the war of words is not helping either country. The good work was undone by Afghanis doublespeak attitude. The Pakistan government has long blamed its neighbor for saying one thing and doing another. However, in order to be on the same page, the two countries have to face certain uncomfortable realities. They need to tone down the stinging rhetoric, which is often designed to rally the political base at home. Analysts say as both countries enter into election cycles, the motivation to scapegoat the other for gaining domestic political mileage might be difficult to resist.
In this strategic scenario, meaningful parleys between the three stakeholders would be needed to give the lead role for security in Afghanistan in the springs of 2013 to Afghan soldiers, 12 years after the United States invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban government harbouring Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on US cities. Most foreign combat forces are due to pull out by the end of 2014, leaving a smaller NATO-led training mission behind and a contingent of US force to fight the remaining few bad militants. US officials hope that Mr Kerry, who has a good relationship with Mr Karzai, can bring the parties back to the negotiating table and make constructive progress on an issue that has long-term security implications for Washington. The Brussels trilateral meeting scheduled on 23-24 April, 2013 included Afghanistan’s defence minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani. The Brussels conference is part of a series of routine core group discussions between Afghanistan and Pakistan at the behest of the United States. 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 during 12-13 December 2012 prior to London conference on Afghanistan, was also aimed to help brothers countries in achieving the objective of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. The “French peace plan” hosted by a French non-governmental research institute took place in Paris on 17 December 2012 which seems to have the American backing, rekindled hopes for some sort of reconciliation between the Taliban and Karzai's government. The British government held a trilateral summit during 3-4 February 2013 at Chequers, England. There, Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to a six-month time frame to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. But the British government had its doubts coming out of the summit. There are ongoing efforts to move the two countries closer together. Nonetheless, there have been no signs of a breakthrough amongst the peace negotiators.
The border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan has long been one of the most contentious issue because the movement of people crossing the border has largely been unchecked or uncontrolled. Most of the time the Taliban cross the Pakistan-Afghan border from Afghan side and attack Pakistani security forces. In fact, Afghanistan has been unrestricted conduit for all types of illegal activities against Pakistan including the provision of financial and military support to angry Baloch militants in Balochistan. Recently, 300 Taliban militants from Afghanistan's territory launched attacks on Pakistani border posts in which 34 Pakistani security forces were believed to be killed. (‎). Although no easy solution are available to the Pak-Afghan problems and it will certainly be a long way for a durable mutual trust to built, some immediate measures like preserving Afghanistan’s integrity, balancing the structure of central government and denying the regional and extra-regional states to meddle with Afghan domestic affairs, can come handy to boost the bilateral relations. 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. Therefore, both the countries fighting common war against terror should not give inflammatory statements against each other.