With the war in Afghanistan surpassing the Vietnam War in terms of length, the American struggle in the region has become unsustainable. The US is working around its policy of not negotiating with terrorists by dealing with certain ‘reconcilable’ factions of the Taliban so that it can pull out of the region. Senator John Kerry has publicly stated that there is ‘no military solution’ for Afghanistan and that active efforts are now being made in order to reach a suitable political settlement. On the other hand, the US wants Pakistan to conduct operations in North Waziristan. Why would a foreign power ask more of an already stretched-thin ally than they are prepared to perform themselves?
Meetings have been held between US officials and Taliban representatives in Qatar and Germany. The Pakistan government has made deals with the Taliban before and these short-lived bargains provided little more than time for the Taliban to rest, recover and restock their inventory in order to strengthen their terrorist activities. However, the US is running out of options and resources at this stage. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that the conditions for the Taliban to participate in negotiations included giving up their weapons, rejecting al Qaeda and accepting the Afghan constitution. Similarly, the Taliban have stated that they will not engage in discussions unless foreign boots leave the Afghan soil. Preliminary talks continue to be held despite neither side meeting the demands of the other.
It has been reported that the US is actively seeking out Mullah Omar because he is deemed crucial to any peace deal. In his absence, the Americans are engaging in talks with one of his senior aides in order to gain access to him. Mullah Omar is considered a key player because he is one of the recognisable Taliban leaders. The British press reported that Marc Grossman, US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, was facing difficulties in finding any Taliban members prepared to even discuss the possibility of peace talks. According to Michael Scheuer, the former head of CIA’s Bin Laden unit, the Taliban are winning the war so “why should they negotiate?”.
The main goal of the Taliban is to install their version of the Sharia law. Since Afghan society does not universally support a deal with the Taliban, a consensus is needed to figure out what the Afghan people want. Most Afghan civilians neither want the fraudulent ‘democratic’ government of Hamid Karzai nor the Taliban as their ruler. Thomas Ruttig of the Afghan Analysts Network in Kabul wrote that “civil society in general thinks that what is discussed in the moment is not about peace and reconciliation, but about a shortcut political deal that will put in danger the few things that have been achieved since 2001.” The US should understand that by merely restoring power to the Taliban without the approval of the Afghan population is not the solution to this dilemma. After 10 years of war, talks at this point might be meaningful but are definitely not a way out of Afghanistan, where the situation still remains fragile.
The coalition’s inability to bring peace into Afghanistan has been blamed on inaction in North Waziristan, whereas Pakistan has stated that it does not have the means to open up three or four fronts. At present, Pakistan has 34,000 troops in North Waziristan and conducts surgical strikes against militants, which comprises of small-scale operations. The goal is to shrink the space for local facilitators of al-Qaeda. The coalition forces in Afghanistan need to do their part and Pakistan will have to step up border security too.
The root cause of the problem is trust deficit. While the US accuses Pakistan of playing both sides, Pakistan views the US as playing a double game as well.
It is time to stop blaming each other. The truth of the matter is that if the US wants to play the role of a world leader, it must appear to address contentious issues that are holding the world hostage to terrorism. It must do so fairly without fraud and favour. In this region, if UN resolutions are allowed to gather dust, and matters such as Kashmir draw no international interest, then expecting full cooperation from Pakistan is unrealistic. Half-hearted attempts to resolve the issue is not an effective method to bring peace and stability to the AfPak border.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2011.
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