War can be described as a breakdown of communication. When arguments fail, weapons speak their own language. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. In Afghanistan obviously it didn’t. Thirty years of war without a victor and it seems that we have not reached an end yet.
The second Bonn Conference which took place on December 5th in Germany, is an attempt to correct the various mistakes of the past. At least formally, all parties agree that the Afghan conflict cannot be settled my military means. The German government, as a host, has worked hard to eliminate the mistakes of the first Bonn Conference in 2001 that gave the former Northern Alliance a disproportionate representation in the Kabul government and ignored the various democratic forces within Afghanistan andin exile.
Just a week ago, a delegation of the Taliban representatives including Wakil Ahmad Mottawakil, Mullah Salaam Zaeef, Abdul Hakim Mujahid along with Pakistan’s Major-General Athar Abbas and Pashtun leader Mahmud Khan Achakzai were in the German capital to attend background talks. This was a good step in the right direction.
Although it seems that not much has been achieved between the warring parties, it is quite obvious that the peace process needs to be continued. But nothing will happen until both sides are ready for some concessions. The mistake of the US is that its military still believes that it can shoot the Taliban to the negotiating table and that it just needs to raise the pressure on Pakistan to succeed. This is a gross miscalculation, as the fallout of the Salala tragedy has shown.
Pakistan has several reasons to be upset with Washington. But, by boycotting the Bonn conference, Pakistan is barking up the wrong tree. The relationship between Pakistan and the US is very complex and this has to be solved on a bilateral level. It is dangerous to make the Afghan peace process a hostage to everything that went wrong between these former partners. The Bonn conference is a multilateral attempt to bring all stakeholders together and it would have provided Pakistan an opportunity to engage constructively in the peace process.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s policymakers suffer from an unhealthy fixation on Washington that prevents them from interacting with other stakeholders. It is true that the European Union and Germany, in particular, are not the main players in Afghanistan. However, they do play a role and they might be more open to Pakistan’s position compared to the currentUS government. But making new friends or engaging old ones (except China), seems to not be a part of Islamabad’s strategy. For now, it seems to be happy having spoiled the game.
This is short-sighted because Pakistan is not strong enough to fight on all fronts. In fact, it cannot even afford the present confrontation as seen by the state of its economic and development indicators. As it is often said, Pakistan is suffering the most from the war on terror. But it is suffering from its own strategy as well. Eating grass in order to uphold one’s national pride is not really a good idea. Who has respect for a country that cannot provide basic goods and services to its people? Economic growth and human development would be a better basis for the sustainable success of the nation.
Pakistan urgently needs to make friends who understand its legitimate interests in the wider security set-up of South and Central Asia. But that needs communication, in fact, a lot of it. My own organisation is constantly engaged in bringing Pakistani speakers to Germany. But much more needs to be done. If Pakistan feels misunderstood by almost everybody, it needs to review its own communication strategy.
The Bonn conference would have provided an opportunity to Pakistan to explain its position on Afghanistan to the world. It is not that there are no arguments. A political process means explaining one’s own position over and over again and sometimes even reviewing it. This holds true for the US as well. But if we increasingly trust the power of weapons more than the power of words, only war can be the result.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2011.