For the very first time, the prime minister has called for the Taliban in Afghanistan to come to the negotiating table — a move which Kabul has been calling for repeatedly and with growing persistence. Till now, Islamabad has declined to comment on the issue — which is obviously vital to President Hamid Karzai, especially as fears grow that the Afghan set-up could be left completely out of the process as the US conducts talks with the key Taliban leadership in Qatar. This dialogue is taking place in a bid to bring the continuing conflict in Afghanistan to an end, and by doing so, making it easier for the US to withdraw from the country.
Pakistan’s change in position has come rather suddenly. It is not quite clear what the factors involved were, but what we do know is that Mr Yousaf Raza Gillani’s call for calm came only after three meetings were held with the military leadership, including the chief of army staff. The ‘go ahead’ from General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and other key military strategists had obviously come before the statement in Islamabad was made, which will, of course, be welcomed and greeted with relief in Kabul. President Karzai — increasingly assuming the role of a puppet — is trying his best to show that he has some hold over his shattered country and there is now also a likelihood of some ease in tensions between Kabul and Islamabad. Pakistan’s role in the whole affair had always been a delicate one. Despite accusations from the US, it has consistently denied harbouring Taliban militants on its soil. It has also had to play carefully when it comes to demonstrating what interests it has in Kabul and what role it sees for a country where it has manipulated matters many times before. The call from the prime minister also reignites the debate about the ‘moderate’ Taliban, and whether such an entity exists at all. The reality also is that whatever happens down the road in Kabul will also have an impact on our own nation. Moves for peace are always welcome — but we do hope this one has been carefully thought out with all its possible consequences for the future of the region.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2012.