Backdoor diplomacy mired in mistrust

Two initiatives involving former security officials, ambassadors and public figures have remained ineffective so far.

Tahir Khan June 02, 2013
Two initiatives involving former security officials, ambassadors and public figures have remained ineffective so far.


The ensuing mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan has overshadowed the ‘track-II diplomacy’ initiatives taken to lessen tensions between the two neighbours. Sources familiar with the matter say the initiatives undertaken have failed to normalise relations.

Retired security officials, diplomats and other public figures have been engaged in informal diplomacy, but to their dismay, efforts have been ineffective so far.

Those involved from Pakistan include former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former director generals of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) retired generals Ihsan-ul-Haq and Asad Durrani, and ex-ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand.

Representing Afghanistan are parliamentarians Sayed Ishaq Gailani and Abdul Latif Pedram, former senator Hamid Gilani, and the first deputy speaker of the lower house of the Afghan parliament, Mirwais Yasini.

A separate initiative is being led by former ISI officer Afzal Janjua, who is familiar to senior Afghan leaders because of his historical role in dealing with Afghanistan. His plan enjoys some support from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

This backdoor diplomacy comes at a time when cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad is urgently required to speed up the peace and reconciliation process as Nato forces begin their withdrawal. The neighbours have been at loggerheads over recent border clashes and Kabul’s accusation stating the Pakistani military is constructing check posts on the Afghan side of the border.

Afghan leaders are at odds with Pakistan, alleging the country has an “indifferent” approach to their request of encouraging the Taliban to join the peace dialogue.

“President Hamid Karzai strongly believes Pakistan has considerable influence on Afghan Taliban leaders, and that the country can convince them to sit with the government or the Afghan Peace Council. He is, however, disappointed at Islamabad’s lukewarm response,” an Afghan official told The Express Tribune.

The Taliban have refused to talk to the Afghan government, accusing it of being a US puppet with no powers. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid insisted the US is the major stakeholder in the conflict, which is why the Taliban held exploratory talks with it in Qatar. The dialogue has stalled since then.

Pakistani officials meanwhile say they cannot force Taliban leaders to talk to the Afghan government. The officials, however, insist they will facilitate the peace process wherever they can.

Citing their efforts thus far, officials said 26 Afghan Taliban detainees were released on Karzai’s request.

Anti-Pakistan media campaign

In some of his recent speeches, Karzai has adopted an anti-Pakistan tone, with Afghan state and private TV channels blasting opinions against Pakistan.

The recent border clash that killed an Afghan soldier and injured five Pakistani troops has been portrayed by the Afghan media as an act of war. Following the incident, Afghan ministers visited the border region and delivered provocative anti-Pakistan speeches.

Demonstrations were also held in Afghanistan’s cities where protesters burnt the Pakistani flag. A trend has been set for the Afghan media to routinely blame Pakistan for almost every bomb that explodes in the country.

The media has now launched a fresh campaign alleging all religious schools in Pakistan have been closed and the Taliban will now focus on Afghanistan to continue their war. The Afghan media has a tendency to run reports before confirming their authenticity.

It seems Afghan state TV and radio have also adopted the Soviet-era policy with radio jockeys actively engaged in anti-Pakistan propaganda as they did during the 1980s, blaming Pakistan forsupporting the Mujahideen. Radio Pakistan in Peshawar at the time engaged in counter propaganda using similar tactics.

Following the May 11 general elections in Pakistan, the Afghan media alleged with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the centre and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), terrorist attacks in Afghanistan will escalate as both parties favour peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Durable peace can only be achieved if this mistrust lessens. But the onus is now on Karzai and his aides. Pakistan must also address Afghan leaders’ genuine concerns. A civil war in Afghanistan must be avoided at all costs because neither country can currently afford to deal with the situation they faced during the 1990s.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2013.


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