A statement by the Afghan Taliban that it neither sought nor received permission from Pakistan to participate in peace talks with the US in Qatar may be technically accurate, but it hides a larger truth, which is that the Afghan Taliban do receive a certain quantum of state patronage. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan made it state policy to prop up the Taliban regime and then, after 9/11, to allow them to regroup and settle in the tribal areas. All of this was done to further the ruinous ‘strategic depth’ policy in the hope that the Taliban would act as our ‘B’ team in the event of war with India. The extent of our support for the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network is difficult to deny, at least in the eyes of the rest of the world, which sees, for instance, the safe haven in North Waziristan, as proof of this.
As for the peace talks in Qatar, while it is possible that the Afghan Taliban may have attended them of its own volition, it would be difficult to imagine that Pakistan wouldn’t have played its due role in them given that for some time it has been saying that the Americans should speak to the Taliban as well. The idea of negotiations was anathema to the Taliban and it would have taken some prodding from Pakistan to convince them of the wisdom of talking to the US. Pakistan’s endgame in Afghanistan after the US withdraws its troops is to have the Taliban in power to act as its proxy. As it happens, the talks proved to be a complete failure with the Taliban pulling out after balking at the US position.
The fact of the matter is that the Pakistani state needs to decide that it cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. The current policy of allowing some jihadis safe havens so that they may be used as proxies in our ‘foreign policy ventures’ has never worked in the past and is unlikely to work in future. With the failure of the negotiations in Qatar, now might be a good time to rethink our policy towards Afghanistan. The Taliban are clearly not interested in sharing power and will wage a civil war to attain absolute power. In such a scenario, we should not have that blood on our hands.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2012.
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