Entering peace negotiations with the Taliban is a tactic that is fraught with risk. Previous experience with the Pakistani Taliban has shown us that the militants use these talks as a way of buying time to regroup. Once they have done so, they feel free to break the terms of any agreement with impunity. However, with the US having to deal with political considerations at home and the possibility of defeat in Afghanistan and with President Hamid Karzai recognising how precarious his hold on power is, both the US and Afghanistan have decided that negotiating with the Taliban is the only way to go. Given this situation, Pakistan has little choice but to join in the talks too. Therefore, the move by Pakistan to allow Afghan officials to meet with captured Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is a wise move.
Baradar’s capture in February 2010 was always a sticking point with Afghanistan. That was when the Karzai government decided it would have to pursue negotiations with the Taliban. Almost simultaneously, Pakistan started arresting Taliban leaders that it had previously denied were in the country. From the point of view of the Afghans, Pakistan was seen as stymieing any potential peace talks by taking one side out of the equation. The thinking in Pakistan seems to have been that since we might not be a party to the negotiations, it would be better to start taking action against the Afghan Taliban. Both sides now seem to be on the same page.
Since — in the two years that we have been holding him — we have probably got all the information Baradar possessed, giving Afghan officials access to him is mostly a symbolic move. But even that marks progress in the fraught relationship with Afghanistan. The next potential stumbling block may be if the Afghans insist that releasing Baradar is essential to the health of the peace process. In that case, Pakistan should demand that Baradar return to Afghanistan and never be allowed on our soil again. The peace talks may end up giving the Taliban a small victory but that is a price we may have to pay for friendly relations with our neighbour.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2012.
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