Recognizing Pakistan’s Afghan Peace Efforts
While the main objective of US military strategists was to root out terrorism through “military measures” alone, the Americans have realized that today’s insurgency can be solved through ‘peaceful dialogue’ rather than unending war. Dr. Barnett R. Rubin, the Senior Adviser 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”. White House Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes has recently stated that “dealing with Taliban issue with political means would be more promising”. Likewise, the Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for South Asia, General Doug Lute, asserted that the peace process would include the Americans, the Afghans, and the Pakistanis “working together to try to craft a political process that defeats safe havens and brings the Afghan Taliban back into the “political fold” in Afghanistan. This shows that Pakistan’s point of view was right, that says “The military might is not the ultimate answer — you can kill people, (but) you are not going to achieve anything”. Experience has shown that the US ‘AfPak strategy’ towards Afghanistan and Pakistan was ineffective because its military options have been taken over diplomatic possibilities. Toeing the popular sentiment, the opposition leader in the British parliament Ed Miliband declared that his party considered Pakistan an important regional ally that support ‘dialogue with the Taliban’ in Afghanistan.
A strong wave of change was noticed when the United States hinted at the possibility of withdrawing all its troops from Afghanistan by 2014, and assigning Pakistan a bigger role in bringing stability to the war-ravaged country. “We very much support a Pakistani role, because there has to be a regional buy into the future of stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and South Asia,” White House official Ben Rhodes told a briefing in Washington. Earlier, former Gen. David Petraeus, the US General overseeing the Afghan war, while appreciating the role of Pakistan security forces in nabbing half a dozen of high value Taliban targets, supported Pakistan’s interests on two important issues: (a) Pakistan has genuine interests in Afghanistan which need to be protected and (b) Pakistan’s peace initiative with Taliban, convey some sense. The acceptance of Pakistan’s position indicates a positive change in the Pentagon towards Islamabad.
Ever since the outbreak of war in 2001, the strife-torn Afghanistan has been ruled by US neoconservatives who believed in military option to nab al Qaeda element, and all the peace efforts initiated intermittently by Pakistan have been sinking without leaving a trace behind. With the US President Obama began his second term pledging to end the war, a keen hope for the peace has been evoked not only for Afghanistan but for the entire region. From the Pakistani perspective, the selection of the pragmatic Hagel will likely to bring an end to the ground war in Afghanistan into Pakistani territory. Now it looks more and more palpable that America has finally reconciled with the idea of accommodating the Taliban as one of the primary entities, if not the main force, within the future power structure of Afghanistan. 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. 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. Being the partners in the GWOT, 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. Obama’s nominees as his next secretary of state and defense secretary, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, are both seen as supportive of a wide-scale military drawdown.
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. Recent talks hosted by France have rekindled hopes for some sort of reconciliation between the Taliban and Karzai's government. Some of the development came out of French peace plan were: a) it is described as a discussion among Afghans rather than peace negotiations, b) Taliban did not insist on total transformation of power in Afghanistan, c) Taliban acceptance of other tribal identities, like Tajiks, Hazara, Pansheris in the region, d) Taliban’s pledge to grant rights to women, promising women to allow to choose husbands, own property, attend school and seek work, d) Constitutional amendment based on Shariah, would protect civil and political rights of all citizens. 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.
Given the backdrop of treacherous past of different Afghan tribes, the French peace plan which seems to have the American backing, is a healthy development with innumerable prospects for the region. The fact that Taliban have publicly recognized that they alone cannot dictate the destiny of all the Afghan people, it opened many vistas for the resolution of Afghan imbroglio. Nonetheless, the sincerity of Taliban towards the idea of a perpetual peace and unified Afghanistan resolution invariably depends on the acceptance of the ‘multi-cultural entities of Afghan society; otherwise there seems to be no end to the hostilities. A marked change in the Taliban’s belief systems that the Taliban tried to enforce on Afghanistan, have been observed that will lay the seed of dialogue process. Reaching a power sharing agreement is not the real issue; to change a conservative mind-set while incorporating ‘moderate enlightenment’ will make a difference.