The decision by the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan to allow ‘reconcilable’ elements of the Afghan Taliban a safe passage into other countries seems to be a case of convenience trumping good sense. The US timetable to begin its phased withdrawal from Afghanistan is approaching and the Obama Administration realises that it can no longer win that decade-old war. The only way for it to leave Afghanistan and claim any kind of victory is by negotiating with the Taliban and hoping that some kind of uneasy truce is brokered. Whether this approach will work or not, remains to be seen. The Karzai government is weaker than ever, while the Taliban seem to be on the ascendancy. For the Taliban, negotiations appear to be a way to ultimately come back into power.
For Pakistan, this development vindicates its stance of calling for engagement with those elements within the Afghan Taliban who were open to reconciliation. Pakistan will now be hoping that the peace process in the region will receive a boost and move forward.
These negotiations also show hypocrisy in the approach adopted by the US. On previous occasions, when Pakistan negotiated with the Taliban based within its territory, the US denounced us as appeasers and Taliban supporters. The US also repeatedly insisted that we go after the Haqqani network, which is allied to the Afghan Taliban. Now, on the other hand, we are part of the negotiations that have allowed the Afghan Taliban safe passage. This will likely mean an increase in Afghan Taliban fighters making their way to Pakistan. Since we have agreed to this, it is time the US realises that it is practically impossible for us to rout every Taliban group based in the country. The US cannot be the only country allowed to dictate how reconciliation takes place.
America also needs to realise that the difference between the so-called ‘moderate’ Taliban and the rest of the group is one of tactics, not ideology. Ousting the Karzai government and taking over Afghanistan, as it had done in the 1990s, is the ultimate aim of the Afghan Taliban. As fruitless as the Afghan war now seems, the current stalemate will pale in comparison to the defeat the US suffers if the Taliban return to power.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2012.
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