There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip but despite that caveat the initiative taken by the government towards Afghanistan is one that needs to be watched carefully and commended.
It started three years ago. Bilateral visits took place, both at the strategic and operational levels. The idea was to reach out to, and help, Afghanistan mend its internal fault lines. The realisation had another dimension too. Regardless of the United States’ policy and its bilateral relations with Kabul and Islamabad, the two capitals needed to have their own track to resolve issues.
A good policy, it didn’t go too far. Distrust could not be addressed meaningfully, with both sides hedging their bets even as they were trying to explore the prospects of enhanced bilateralism. There was much fanfare over the High Peace Council (HPC) set up by Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, with Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani as its head. Professor Rabbani came to Pakistan in January 2011 and it was thought, at the time, that his visit would yield some movement.
That didn’t happen. Meanwhile, Kabul had also opened an internal track, trying to talk to the Taliban. One such effort brought a suicide bomber close enough to Professor Rabbani. The assassination all but spelled the death of that initiative. This, despite the fact that then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani rushed to Kabul to condole Professor Rabbani’s death and Pakistan condemned that dastardly act.
Not enough, said Kabul, alleging the bomber was a Pakistani and implying state complicity. Recrimination and blame game followed. Afghanistan signed a Strategic partnership Agreement (SPA) with India close on the heels of that tragedy, making Pakistan feel the move was undertaken on the rebound. The jig, it seemed, was up.
Fortunately not. In the background, work was being done, both at the Foreign Office and in the Pakistan embassy in Kabul with the latter providing the opportunity to the government to pick up the pieces. That’s hard, painstaking work, done away from the limelight.
The two sides are back again, with Afghanistan relying heavily on Pakistan to help it heal its internal wounds. It’s work in progress, much still to be done. Islamabad wants to assure the non-Pashtun Afghans that it is not in the business of putting them down; that it wants an Afghan peace process which is led, driven and owned by the Afghans. It will act as a facilitator of this process and it is an honest player. The internal balance of power — ethnic and political — is for the Afghans to decide.
At the inauguration of the Pakistan embassy on July 19, the guest list had all the main leaders of the political opposition. Talking to them revealed that while they have grievances, not one of them thinks that Afghanistan can sail alone. Pakistan has to provide the wind for the sails. There was nothing mushy about their sentiments. All of them are hard-nosed. All of them also understand that the ground is treacherous and undulated. But no matter what Afghanistan does, its future stability requires Pakistan.
That is both Pakistan’s primary strength as well as its weakness. A stable Afghanistan brings into play Pakistan’s strength; a warring Afghanistan renders this contiguity — geographical, historical and ethnic — Pakistan’s principal weakness.
The current policy is focused on exploiting Pakistan’s strength.
The HPC is still there, headed now by Salahuddin Rabbani, the scion of Professor Rabbani. The bilateral discussions focused on many issues but the central one was Pakistan’s role as the facilitator and how it can make the HPC relevant. The Pakistani delegation comprised the prime minister, ministers of interior and foreign affairs and yes, most significantly, the director general Inter-Services Intelligence.
The two sides presented their proposals; some tough talk happened, some common ground found. The HPC head will now visit Pakistan. The real work begins then from this tentative step.
I asked President Hamid Karzai about the SPAs (strategic partnership agreements) his government has signed and is signing and perceptions in Pakistan. He said Pakistan remained the “very, very special friend”. He talked about the “particularity” of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. But he agreed that the task ahead is tough. No one wants the snakes and ladders in this relationship.
Much will depend on Pakistan’s next moves when Salahuddin Rabbani arrives here. What will Pakistan offer him? Is it going to ask the Taliban to negotiate? Will it give Rabbani carte blanche? Will it make this bilateral process now the cornerstone of its policy, not just in relation to Afghanistan but also vis-a-vis the United States? Is a mechanism in place?
It would make eminent sense to do so. The US policy, because Pakistan has pulled back from the kind of facilitation it allowed Washington during General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s tenure, is now focused on pressuring and isolating Pakistan in order to compel it to do the US bidding. What safety valve does Pakistan have to release pressure? Help Afghanistan.
Helping Afghanistan helps in stitching up a possible deal between Kabul and the Taliban, despite many problems and imponderables. There are no guarantees but facilitation can go a long way. It will help if Pakistan were to release Mullah Biradar and other Taliban leaders who wanted to open up a channel with Kabul. What direction such talks might take is for the Afghans to figure out. Pakistan’s job is to set the direction.
Not only will it facilitate Afghanistan — though no one should become starry-eyed and think of driving to Kabul via Torkham anytime soon — but it will also greatly help Pakistan in releasing pressure from itself and gain space vis-a-vis the United States and other state actors.
The last time round the security establishment wasn’t fully on-board. They better be this time round. The political government, the FO and Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul, a most adroit diplomat, are deeply invested in this policy. They deserve to make it a success.
It won’t be a neat, linear trajectory. But precisely for this reason, Pakistan needs a proactive policy and wrest the initiative. Active engagement is what it needs. The policy looks good on the drawing board; let’s try and implement it.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2012.
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@not-an-indian: u represent the true identity of all pakistanis, which is being "not-an-indian", instead of being "a pakistani". Pity!
Mr. Haider can write all what he wants for the West to hear: non-interference in Afghan's policies, providing wind to the sails, Pakistan’s role as a facilitator etc.
History says otherwise. The Deep State is waiting to launch its Strategic Depth policy once NATO leaves. So they are making the right noises through Mr. Haider.
The fact is: no one trusts Pakistan.
@blackjack. I would add that the class bullies tend to lose interest once their victims start to stand up to them -- even the small guy occasionally gets a shot in and most bullies are cowards at heart.
@ Ejaz The only solution for the 'embroiled', 'quagmire' and 'shining' ones is to engage economically through trade of services and goods- from Bay of Bengal to Baltic sea. Let's all try for economic alliance and junk the carcinogenic idea of 'strategic depth'. The Indian political elite will never let us destroy whatever they have achieved in 65 years, otherwise. Americans & NATO will leave us behind in the Arabian sea by the end of 2014 and will watch death and destruction in the Af-Pak region seven seas away on CNN.
Why r there so many Indians here?
Anyways, who killed rabbani? R u telling me that raw was not involved? Pakistan always wanted peace , its hyporcirte Indians and americans who have created instability .Americans r actually the ones who created those terrorists.
@kaka: hahahah, best comment I have ever seen on ET in the history of ET, or even in the history of journalism!! Love it !!!
I think Vikas was just being sarcastic.he is using reverse psychology to obtain desired action of pak NOT getting embroiled in war in Afghan.His pithy comment seems to have touched a raw nerve.
A. Meanwhile, Kabul had also opened an internal track, trying to talk to the Taliban. One such effort brought a suicide bomber close enough to Professor Rabbani. The assassination all but spelled the death of that initiative.
B.The last time round the security establishment wasn’t fully on-board. They better be this time round. The political government, the FO and Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul, a most adroit diplomat, are deeply invested in this policy. They deserve to make it a success.
Do these statements mean that
a. The 'Security Establishment' had something to do with the suicide bomber targeting Prof Rabbani?
b. The 'Corrupt , Inept Civilians' are actually capable of doing good?
My God, can this be true? Coming from the Great Oracle himself?
@BlackJack: Excellent post!
@Gratgy: Haa haa haa, Well said.
Now, to the piece. Blackjack and gp65, Sir Ejaz Haider is indeed telling the truth as always. Pakistan has been always misunderstood. If Conspiring Kabul Cabal could be cleared and Devious Delhi Dadas could be defeated, a peaceful, prosperous region could be in everyone’s interest. Pakistan has never been against this peaceful principled arrangement.
You should have also mentioned the Islamabad cabal to be cleared for normalcy to return. There are no Delhi Dadas in Kabul, the DADAS that rule both Afghanistan and Pakistan are from the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Get it right.
@Gratgy Hilarious and accurate. LOL.
@kaka Typical Day of a Pakistani troll in Pakistan
1)Wait for Electricity 2)Wait for Electricity 3)Wait for Electricity 4)Finally Electric supply resumed- Afghanistan,Kashmir, Islam, India, RAW, CIA, Drone, Froth Froth Froth 5)Power supply Gone 6)Wait for Water 7)Wait for Water 8)Attend a PTI Jalsa 9)Come back home and light candle
The ego of Generals should be dashed to ground otherwise the bloodshed would continue to infinite. The only losers in this dirty game are the common people of Pakistan who are more patriotic than Generals and Politicians who always played in the hand of Uncle Same; pockets stuffed with dollars. It is time for common Pakistanis to come forward and rein these ghosts in order to have cordial and friendly relationship with neighbors including the India.
* Pakistan has to provide the wind for the sails.*
I wonder what sails the writer is talking about. The only positive role that Pakistan can play is to stop being negative. If it attempts to burn the "sails" Pakistan will have to pay a very dear price.
The best thing that Pakistan can do is to sit quiet and not scheme any dirty games. Pakistan has no role to play in the development of Afghanistan. It can only be done by countries that have the means, will and competence.
"that it wants an Afghan peace process which is led, driven and owned by the Afghans. It will act as a facilitator of this process and it is an honest player. The internal balance of power — ethnic and political — is for the Afghans to decide."Cutting out the jargon it just means be a good friend and give the type of help asked for if possible but always let them have their way in there country. A stable and prosperous neighbor is the best recipe for your own security and prosperity. That is why i want a stable and prosperous Pakistan,it will be good for India.
Finding strategic depth in another sovereign country is like strategic death.
Trying same thing again and again since 1979 but expecting different result is one of the definition of insanity.
Your "qualified" have brought nothing but death and destruction to not only Afghanistan but also to Pakistan and to some extent to India.
People much more qualified!
Their qualifications have been proven time and again and have resulted in today's Pakistan.
Strategic Depth has become a colossal blunder, but Jehadist Generals and their followers are happy in their own dreamland enjoying the sight of Jehadis blowing themselves up.
We Pakistanis have a highly developed sense of denial.
@Vikas: grow up man.
@kaka : Minor adjustments:
6a) Stink up the whole office with his foul-smelling food. 6b) Wobble head in approval while eating with his hands.
kaka, that is the best comment ever.
Now, to the piece. Blackjack and gp65, Sir Ejaz Haider is indeed telling the truth as always. Pakistan has been always misunderstood. If Conspiring Kabul Cabal could be cleared and Devious Delhi Dadas could be defeated, a peaceful, prosperous region could be in everyone's interest. Pakistan has never been against this peaceful principled arrangement.
@Ejaaz: Can't hear you above your 'strategic depth' rant. There are people much more qualified than either me or you who are in-charge of making this decision. There is no simple solution so stop trying to distort facts.
Regular day of a male Pakistani:
Google trend what Pakistanis Google most!
Pakistan has secured a dubious distinction of being the number one globally for searching the three-letter term that starts with "s" on Google since last four years.
Now I know they peep through windows to know what others do.
Afghanistan has a history of thousands of years. Barely 60 years old pakistan tries to influence things there. It simply wont work. Pakistan should put its own house in order.
their will be peace in pakistan and afghanistan when our establishment's obsession with making afghanistan our fifth province ends. period.
@Vikas "..We need Pakistan to be embroiled in the Afghanistan quagmire for at least another decade. Meanwhile we can develop peacefully...."
Another 'shinning india' delusional specimen
@Vikas, Regular day of an Indian troll 1) come to office 2) take IT desktop support calls 3) put anti-pak comemnts on ET 4) take IT desktop support calls 5) put anti-pak comemnts on ET 6) eat vegetable stew (wobble head sideways) 7) put anti-pak comemnts on ET 8) add a few paki chiks on facebook (wobble head sideways) 9) go home
@BlackJack: "Amazingly well-worded piece that manages to skirt the entire issue of Pakistan’s role in the current situation in Afghanistan " So you actually understood this Op/Ed? I could not understand what are facts being presented, what are conclusions being drawn and what are next steps being recommended.
on our east we have a biger enemy we have inferiorty complex on our west a smaller enemy we have superiorty complex and net result is a complete confusion so as what to do.we need a psychiatrist to get self confidence that we badly lack.leave every thing on afganistan and get away.no more thesis no more lengthy talks no more jealousy will serve the purose.
Had Pakistan been sincere about its attitude towards Afg., it would not have allowed its territory to be used as a safe haven for all the fighters being pushed out in the aftermath of the US campaign. They would have sealed their border, and the fighters would have been trapped / eliminated by the US / Nato forces. The sincerity never existed - not then, not now. As result, the fighters were able to recuperate and regroup on Pak soil, and launch attacks on the US/Nato forces, and scamper back across the border. Also, after having seen too many instances of attacks being planned on the Pak side and executed on the Afg side, and not much being done by Pak to stop this, the US got over its lack of boots on ground by resorting to drones. Only when things got out of hand, did the Pak govt take some action - but even that was half-hearted. As a result today, neither side of the border is secure, the scourge of terrorism affects both sides of the border, and other countries throughout the world, and there is no end in sight on both sides of the Durand. And yet, Pak govt has not learnt its lesson - they still want to meddle in Afg..
"Professor Rabbani came to Pakistan in January 2011 and it was thought, at the time, that his visit would yield some movement.That didn’t happen. Meanwhile, Kabul had also opened an internal track, trying to talk to the Taliban. One such effort brought a suicide bomber close enough to Professor Rabbani. The assassination all but spelled the death of that initiative." ; The author makes it sound like the success of the Af-Pak talks is very hard for Pakistan ( "it won't be a neat, linear trajectory" )! While admitting (implicitly) that Burhanuddin Rabbani's assassination may have been linked to the Afghan government opening an independent channel with the Taliban. Given Mullah Biradar and other Taliban leader's arrest by ISI for holding independent talks with the Afghans it's pretty clear who was behind Burhanuddin's murder. Yes, the success of the talks is a very lofty goal for the Afghans, but for Pakistan (?), they only needed to let it go, let Taliban and the Afghan government hold their own talks, without sending Haqqani's men from time to time to terrorize Kabul.
You cannot kill your own people and accept no consequences.
We need Pakistan to be embroiled in the Afghanistan quagmire for at least another decade. Meanwhile we can develop peacefully.
Amazingly well-worded piece that manages to skirt the entire issue of Pakistan's role in the current situation in Afghanistan while making out that the entire trust deficit is just one sad mistake. The truth is that the entire (supposed) cycle of disengagement and rapprochment between Afghanistan and Pakistan can be found in the playground manual for dealing with the class bully (especially if you are much smaller and weaker); You try and ignore him but he won't allow you to; you think of standing up to him which falls afoul of his cheery disposition and poorly disguised insecurity; you try and hang around stronger kids or teachers but he waits patiently to get you alone; and finally you can only hope to escape his vicious nature if you appease his ego enough - Afghanistan seems to have gone through all the stages.
Boy... All the guys in the elite class - ministers, officers, writers, managers make the right noise. " Pakistan needs to engage with neighbors, pakistan needs to shun terrorism, pakistan needs to invest in development.. blah, blah..
But nothing is visible on the ground. In fact, on ground they seem to be digging a deeper hole they are in. Not sure why there is a huge gap between preaching and implementation.!!
I think it is a good time for Pakistan to prevent itself from facing a huge catastrophe by honestly delivering what it can. Currently U.S , Kabul and their allies are at a stage that iare ready to ignore some the most controversial facts about Pakistan supporting insurgents because the US and NATO wants to reach a peace deal. More conflict will bring everybody more pain specially Pakistan and Afghanistan. I think if Pakistan is not taking advantage of this narrow window of opportunity to play a POSITIVE role, the next stage of the reactions from the NATO and US may prove devastating for the region. I think we should never forget the catastrophes of WWII and the way the US and Royal air force acted.