Pakistan softening its stance on Afghanistan?

Published: December 2, 2012
The latest batch of Taliban leaders being released is due to a much-weakened Foreign Office on its own. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

The latest batch of Taliban leaders being released is due to a much-weakened Foreign Office on its own. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Talks between Afghan Foreign Minister Dr Zalmai Rassoul and his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar on November 30 have resulted in Pakistan agreeing to free another batch of Afghan Taliban leaders from its prisons. Earlier in the month, talks between Pakistani officials and the Afghan High Peace Council resulted in the release of nine mid-level Taliban cadres. The Afghan side made it clear that their release was necessary to “help bring the militants to the negotiating table” as the Afghan endgame drew near for the US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.

The Afghans are focused on the former Taliban number two, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, as he was perceived to be the decisive factor in the possible change of mind within the jihad led by Mullah Umar. Baradar was caught and restrained by Pakistan when he tried to leave his Karachi hideout in 2010 and UN special representative to Afghanistan in charge of negotiating with the Taliban, Elai Eide, had publicly objected to the arrest. For the time being, Baradar will stay with Pakistani authorities. However, the world will welcome the latest Pakistan-Afghanistan progress on the subject of the Afghan Taliban leadership in Karachi. This will give the world the assurance that the latest batch of Taliban leaders is being released with a broad Pakistani consensus and not by a much-weakened Foreign Office on its own.

Pakistan is playing hardball by restraining the Afghan leaders who could “return to their country to help bring the militants to the negotiating table”, as the Afghan foreign minister said. Islamabad and Rawalpindi do not want anyone to start negotiating without Pakistan getting its case heard as a part of the new gloss placed on their foreign policy conduct — at times explained as ‘transactional’. Needless to say, Pakistan’s stance is still dominated by strategic considerations mainly focused on the presence of India in Afghanistan and its much enhanced influence after a recent Indo-Afghan ‘strategic partnership’ agreement. Afghan president Hamid Karzai says he wants a similar agreement with Pakistan but that alone will not pacify the framers of Pakistan’s strategy.

However, there are weaknesses making their appearance inside Pakistan that must persuade it to relent in its tough stance and encourage Ms Khar to occupy more of the centre stage. Pakistan is hounded by terrorism emanating from the Pakistani Taliban who swear allegiance to Mullah Umar but are more inclined to listen to al Qaeda. Pakistan’s ‘toughness’ grows out of a morally weak policy of sheltering two kinds of elements that are supposed to lend strength to its ability to dictate terms in Afghanistan: 1) Afghan militants who don’t kill Pakistanis but attack across the Durand Line to kill Afghans and the US-Nato troops; and 2) ‘friendly’ Pakistani Taliban like Mullah Nazir who don’t kill Pakistanis but attack across the Durand Line.

This strategy towards Afghanistan has undergone a natural osmosis over the years and Pakistan has suffered because of its moral ambiguity. Thankfully, Pakistan is also following another strand of policy spearheaded by trade that can only succeed if the old stance is either abandoned or is defeated: regional trade under the broad umbrella of Saarc pledging free trade with the eight members of the regional organisation, including Afghanistan. Pakistan has softened on the Afghan transit trade with India and given Kabul the permission to send goods to India through the land route running through Pakistan. More boldly, despite much ‘organised’ objection to the America-floated Silk Road, Pakistan has made an effort to link up with Tajikistan, using Afghanistan as a transit state. Pakistan has been compelled by its internal trouble to also hold a Pak-Afghan clerical conference to outlaw terrorism as an instrument of so-called jihad unleashed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the two counties.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2012. 

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Dec 2, 2012 - 10:43AM

    Peace process,drone attacks,go together?


  • Trippy Lucifer
    Dec 2, 2012 - 2:43PM

    Actually it is the US that backs out from its promises. That is reason Taliban don’t want to be on negotiating table.


  • Enlightened
    Dec 2, 2012 - 5:46PM

    Pakistan has not any lesson so far that who live by the sword also die by the word. The decades old policy of self-destruction ie supporting terror organisation is still not abandoned despite suffering at their hands as most analysts have predicted that these so called good Taliban would turn tables on Pakistan and create state of anarchy in the whole country.


  • Its (still) Econonmy Stupid
    Dec 2, 2012 - 6:07PM

    Rabbani had asked the Pakistanis to release four senior Taliban officials whom they had imprisoned, apparently for the crime of holding peace talks without Islamabad’s approval. Pakistan has a long history of pulling out the rug from negotiations, and this could prove to be yet another feint, designed to buy time until the battlefield odds became more favorable to the Taliban.Rabbani said that Pakistan has promised to release Mullah Baradar and the other two detainees; he is now waiting to see if they make good. Pakistani officials also vowed to sign a joint statement asking the United Nations to remove several key figures from a list of terrorists, and to permit them to travel outside the country for talks. Taliban political control over portions of the country’s south and east, as well as impunity for the militants. That would be ugly — especially for any woman in Taliban-dominated regions — but it’s a deal I think the United States could live with.,1


  • Syed Haider
    Dec 2, 2012 - 6:36PM

    I don’t know what fixation ET have with “Pakistan’s ALLEGED fixation with India in Afghanistan”. Pakistan has no such fixation with India, Pakistan has openly accepted the role of India in Afghanistan.

    What Pakistan is worried about is not India’s relationship with Afghanistan, but Afghanistan being used for fostering anti-Pakistan elements, anti-Pakistan activities; activities that are a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty.

    No where has this article mentioned anything related to that. Pakistan’s concerns are legitimate and genuine.

    Pakistan has not SHELTERED any Afghan Taliban militants, it has not gone ‘all-out’ against them just as the US/NATO Forces have not gone ‘all-out’ against Mullah Fazlullah’s TTP in Kunar and Nuristan.


  • wonderer
    Dec 2, 2012 - 6:38PM

    Pakistan should concentrate more on improving its own credibility in Afghan eyes than undermining India’s. That is the positive approach which will succeed, and the other negative one will certainly fail. Pakistan’s present thinking smacks of immaturity.


  • Rizwan
    Dec 2, 2012 - 6:54PM

    seems like I read this editorial in newspaper of some hostile country. Can not understand why there is so much disconnect between Pakistani policy makers and her main national newspapers who in other countries always backup their institutions to gain more grounds to secure national interests. perhaps a reason is a paper with watermark of Mr. Benjamin


  • wonderer
    Dec 2, 2012 - 7:08PM

    @Syed Haider:

    “What Pakistan is worried about is not India’s relationship with Afghanistan, but Afghanistan being used for fostering anti-Pakistan elements, anti-Pakistan activities; activities that are a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

    You have a valid point Sir, but there is enough evidence to show that India has no such intentions. The reason being that such actions are not in India’s own interest. India is much too busy setting its own house in order. We should get pout of such a presumptive mindset in our own interest.


  • Syed Haider
    Dec 2, 2012 - 9:35PM

    @ wonderer:

    I am not implying India is necessarily responsible for anti-Pakistan activities inside Afghanistan, but still, there are plenty of anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan that are a nuisance to Pakistan. Whether that is sheltering Baloch nationalist terrorists such as the BLA, BLF etc; or the TTP. All the insurgency in the Western belt of Pakistan is fueled by Afghanistan. The Afghan Pashtuns (besides the ones sitting in Kabul, & other Dari regions) are underrepresented, & the conditions of the Afghan Pashtuns will directly affect the conditions of the Pashtuns in Western Pakistan. It is naturally understandable that Pakistan would want any arrangement in Afghanistan that is not a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty.


  • Jat
    Dec 2, 2012 - 9:52PM

    @Rizwan: Can not understand why there is so much disconnect between Pakistani policy makers and her main national newspapers who in other countries always backup their institutions…

    What a brilliant mind ! So if these policy makers decide to sink the country in to the Arabian Sea, the main national newspapers should back them up ? Just to jog your memory, this is exactly what happened in 1970-71. The headline in Dawn just one day before surrender was “Victory certain in East Pakistan”. The same victory news was continuously broadcast from Pakistan Radio.


  • wonderer
    Dec 2, 2012 - 10:37PM

    @Syed Haider:

    You are right again in what you say.

    But the day Pakistan ceases to be a nuisance for its neighboring countries, it will face no nuisance from them. The other important thing is that if Pakistan wants to have some “arrangement” in a neighboring country that suits its requirements, it will also have to adopt an “arrangement” that suits them.

    Pakistan must remember that Afghans will have the “arrangement” that suits them, even if it does not suit Pakistan. They have a right to it.

    Pakistan’s dilemma is the result of its own presumptuous foreign policy.

    This world is not a one way street.


  • gp65
    Dec 3, 2012 - 12:39AM

    @wonderer: Sir, if you continue to talk sense and debunk unfounded conspiracy theories, you will soon be accused of being a RAW agent. I hope you stay safe.


  • Ejaz
    Dec 3, 2012 - 12:21PM

    E.T. There is no moral ethics in international politics.
    If there has been some, yesterdays Mujahideens having feast in White House will not be Terrorists of Today. So dont teach us morality here.

    Pakistan has suffered because of its
    moral ambiguitymoral ambiguity


  • Sandip
    Dec 12, 2012 - 2:39PM

    @Syed Haider: Doesn’t it make you wonder if Afghanistan is paying Pakistan back in its own coin. That is certainly not something that Pakistan can complain about when it has played such a major role in the destruction of Afghanistan? Or is it a case of the boot hurting when it’s on your own foot?


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