Afghanistan and Pakistan understandably treat each other with a lot of suspicion. For the Afghans, Pakistan has always been a thorn in its side, from its support of the Taliban regime in the 1990s to its refusal to take action against the Haqqani network. Meanwhile, our security establishment has seemingly continued to stick with its discredited policy of ‘strategic depth’, which has harmed relations with Afghanistan. In this scenario, any talk of dialogue between the neighbours is to be welcomed — but with a healthy dose of caution. The talks between Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and British Prime Minister David Cameron in Kabul ended on a positive note with the two neighbours agreeing to hold joint talks with the Taliban.
But just the promise of talks is not enough to engender much optimism. First, even if the civilian government in Pakistan has good intentions, this does not mean that the military establishment will necessarily follow suit. As long as the Pakistani state does not take action against the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan and as long as these militants continue to carry out attacks in Afghanistan, we will not be trusted partners in any peace talks. In this scenario, Afghanistan may feel that we are simply trying to negotiate the Taliban back into power in a post-US withdrawal set-up and any future attack could bring these talks to a crashing halt.
Also, having the militant group become a part of negotiations is fraught with danger. We have seen that the Taliban is not a group open to compromise. Rather, there is every chance that it will simply use talks to gain some breathing space and re-launch regular assaults. A group so committed to violence can never be entirely trusted. And if Afghanistan also feels that Pakistan is siding too obviously with the Taliban, then talks could collapse. For now, we should be glad that the two governments are trying to reduce tension but that should not blind us to the obvious dangers ahead.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2012.
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