Whilst this newspaper is strongly supportive of any credible attempt to bring peace and security to Afghanistan, caution has to be exercised. Less than two years ago the mood music was upbeat and attitudes positive, then there was the dispute over the building of a fortified border gate on the Pakistan border, instances of Afghan artillery opening fire on Pakistan forces and a host of lesser infractions that took relations to a new low.
Within the last month America has announced not-particularly-new or innovative strategies for Afghanistan, the Chinese have expressed a considerable interest as well they might, no party has invited any iteration of the Taliban in or out of Afghanistan to sit at the table with them, and Islamic State features on no agenda despite having the upper hand in parts of Afghanistan over the Taliban. And into this pot of carefully cultured negativity comes General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of the Army Staff, alongside the chief of the ISI, to be photographed with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday 1st October.
The talks they held were ‘candid and constructive’, the stock anodyne phrase to describe a diplomatic interaction that did not actually descend into a fist fight. The COAS is a get-things-done leader and his entry to the Afghan bear-pit is suggestive of, at the very least, a desire by Pakistan to draw a line in the sand, to cooperate and take ‘practical steps’ with a suspension of the eternally-ticking blame game being one such. All well and good and nothing that any sane and moderate person would disagree with. Except that outside the polite table-talks nation to nation there are people that are anything but moderate and of questionable sanity in some cases; and they are armed to the teeth and so inured to conflict that engaging in anything other than a regular bloodletting is utterly inimical. As has been noted in these columns before like it or not the Taliban and their extensive franchise are legitimate stakeholders in Afghanistan, and until they can be brought to the table for talks about talks then any ‘initiative’ is little more than diplomatic theatre. That said — any talking is better than no talking.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2017.