President Karzai - A Reluctant Ally
By: Osman Khan
The challenging relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has long been locked in horns. There have been too many ups and downs to call the relationship anything but one that is sustainable, mature and long lasting. While the two-day mid-April Afghan military visit to Pakistan indicated thawing in relationship, a series of cross border incidents and Afghanistan’s severe official reaction that ensued, dashed any hopes that may have been linked with the visit. In late March this year, Kabul had alleged Islamabad for heavily shelling its territory from across the border and showed furious reaction over refurbishment of its Gursal military post in Mohmand agency. Whereas the first incident drew a series of anti-Pakistan demonstrations in Kabul and elsewhere with concurrent airing of provocative talk shows and discussions in Afghan media, reaction to the second incident related to Gursal post was unusually furious.
President Hamid Karzai directed all concerned Afghan officials to take immediate steps to dismantle the border gate, check post and other installations built by Pakistan. When President Karzai left Afghanistan for Brussels to attend US sponsored trilateral meeting with US Secretary of State as a mediator, an official statement released by Karzai’s office confirmed that the Gursal check post issue would be taken up during discussions.
President karzai did take up the issue during the Brussels’ three hour long trilateral meeting vitiating the talks atmosphere. President Karzai who initially looked at odds with General Kayani at the beginning of the session later cooled down and shook hands with him after the meeting. Secretary Kerry, while leaving for Washington at the end of his commitments at Brussels said that both the leaders had agreed to ‘underpromise but deliver’. Meanwhile officials in Washington are getting increasingly worried over the fast closing window of opportunity on a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan and as such, they have concluded that good relationship between the two neighbors has become mandatory to ease out their peaceful withdrawal from Afghanistan and transformation of Afghanistan to a stable country. General Kayani during the meeting demanded off President Karzai to hand over Pakistani Taliban leader Maulvi Faqir Mohammad to Pakistan to bring him to justice and to also take effective measures on its side of the border to dismantle the sanctuaries of Maulvi Fazlullah led Swat Taliban. General Kayani also lamented the utter failure of President Karzai’s administration in preventing Maulvi Fazlullah’s Taliban militants’ crossing over the border from Afghanistan and launching attacks on Pakistani military posts. He cited the two provinces i.e. Kunar and Nuristan as the major hub for launching their anti-Pakistan operations and urged Mr. Karzai too take actions against them so that Afghan soil cannot be used by them to attack Pakistan. Mr. Karzai agreed, though unconvincingly, to discuss the issue at home before he could make some commitment on doable demands.
However, his return from Brussels to Kabul saw his military enter Pakistani border area on night of 1st May and attack Gursal post. Last month Karzai had issued a directive to his ministers and military forces for using all available means to remove any new installations erected by Pakistan near the border, though he later claimed that his directive was misconstrued. After the attack on Pakistani post, a heavy barrage of Afghan artillery fire followed. Two of Pakistan’s security personnel deployed in the area were wounded in the attack.
There is a growing skepticism in Washington and Islamabad on Mr. Karzai’s motives and unpredictable nature, who has been criticizing the two countries unnecessarily in the past. As he nears completion of his second term of his presidency in Afghanistan he is getting concerned on his future relevance in Afghan affairs. This may be one reason that he tries to convince Washington that Afghan elections scheduled for 2014 be postponed for three years. He is also getting edgy on not being considered very important on peace negotiations with Taliban being carried out by other countries. Karzai appears to be sour for having been kept out from the European and US talks with Taliban elsewhere. He always believed that he would always be in the centre of any peace initiatives that take place around the globe and that he would be the one leading the negotiations. Amid such international moves on reconciliation with the Taliban, Karzai has warned that no foreign elements or entities should attempt to own Afghan peace efforts an that he would not allow other attempts to succeed. Taliban continue to refuse talks with Karzai or representatives of his regime. On his part, Karzai has also failed to entice Taliban into talks. While addressing a gathering at Kabul on ‘International Women Day’ last month, he confirmed that Taliban were holding talks with US in Europe and the Gulf states but not with Kabul. He also said that Taliban were not his enemies and Afghans were being tortured only in the name of Taliban. As a consequence of Karzai’s accusations that the US was colluding with Taliban, an already scheduled joint press conference between the visiting US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and President Karzai was cancelled by the US Secretary.
President Karzai’s inflexible approach to realities on ground and general mistrust vis-à-vis reconciliation talks with the Taliban and Pakistan’s centrality therein for lasting stability in Afghanistan, is hurting interests of his own country. His belligerent approach towards Pakistan is not going to change the fortunes for him in Afghanistan. What he fails to comprehend unfortunately is that how important it is to establish a tension free relationship with Pakistan if at all Afghanistan has to get out of the current quagmire. Despite repeated requested he stubbornly refuses to hand over Maulvi Faqir, Fazlullah and other terrorists to Pakistan. They are being treated as special guests of Afghanistan and afforded all requisite facilities to make their stay comfortable. Afghans have also provided Indian intelligence operatives a direct access to these terrorists at the behest of whom they continue to launch cross border attacks in Malakand, Chitral and Baluchistan as well. What he needs is to change his own belligerent mindset on Pakistan and stop blaming the country for all his failings in resurrecting Afghanistan from the state of perpetual turmoil. As the time runs out before foreign forces quit Afghanistan, reconciliation with the Taliban is the only option available. All efforts towards that goal, whether they take place in Gulf or the US or in Europe must be supported. Karzai’s stubbornness at this crucial Afghan and regional transformation time may sideline him all together because reconciliation with the Taliban by the stake holders will continue whether he likes it or not.