THE most important takeaway to emerge from President Karzai’s visit to Washington was not, in fact, what the American presence in Afghanistan will look like after 2014; that decision still appears to be under negotiation. Far clearer was the reaffirmation — and intensification — of America’s plans to wind down its presence in Afghanistan. Speeding up plans to hand over primary combat responsibility to Afghan troops, President Obama said this would be done by the spring, earlier than planned. By implication, that would allow for accelerating the pace at which American troops are withdrawn as the 2014 deadline approaches. But one thing should be clear to the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan: their interests will be under threat if the speedy transition is not accompanied by a solid effort to reach a political settlement for Afghanistan.

All three countries do seem to recognise this; Presidents Obama and Karzai stressed the reconciliation point and said the Doha talks with the Taliban would be revived, and Pakistan’s release of some Taliban fighters indicates a willingness to actively facilitate the process. But in Pakistan, at least, the security and foreign policy establishments still do not seem to share a common vision, strategy and goals for the Afghan peace process, one that has complex implications for this country. Bringing the Afghan Taliban into the political process could help prevent a return to civil war or to a Taliban-dominated government, either of which could destabilise not just Afghanistan, but the region. But any power-sharing for the Taliban should come with assurances that the Pakistani Taliban and other anti-Pakistan militants will not be given new safe havens across the border. Given the complexities of the issue, and the current US administration’s demonstrated desire for a rapid exit from Afghanistan, Pakistan needs to quickly develop a coherent approach to Afghan reconciliation, one that focuses on ensuring our internal security rather than trying to be a player in post-2014 Afghanistan or fending off perceived external threats.

But Afghanistan’s history has proved that stability in the region is not about Pak-Afghan relations alone. No peace process will be viable unless Afghanistan’s other neighbours also refrain from using the country as a stage on which to further their own interests or project their power vis-à-vis other regional players. That, in turn, will be only possible if the post-2014 set-up has their buy-in. The core group of the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan is making the right move by emphasising Afghan reconciliation. As the end of 2014 approaches, though, that effort will must be widened to ensure a sustainable peace in the region.

Updated Jan 14, 2013 12:10am

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Comments (6) (Closed)


pathanoo
Jan 14, 2013 05:47pm
The peace in Afghanistan will be illusory till the Afghans are left ABSOLUTELY alone to decide their own fate. The other (more) important factor would be the Talibans. They will try to come to power and would NOT give up violence. If this happens, then peace will be a mirage. I bet on the importance of the Taliban behavior. That will be the decider whether peace comes to Afghanistan or not.
Deepen
Jan 15, 2013 10:14am
agree completely! it is written as if Pakistan is an innocent little country! this Ostrich head in the sand approach of Pakistan is consistent, though.
Lemar
Jan 15, 2013 05:25am
the biggest question is neither Pakistan and nor Afghanisan have the resources to use different groups against each other so who are providing the bulk of weapons, money to Taliban on both sides of the border. I totally agree there should be regional solution to the problem, as Afghanistan is not the only side suffereng here and then the regional countries has huge role in destablizing Afghanistan and now are suffereing themselves.
cautious
Jan 14, 2013 02:49pm
I find it interesting that the Editor is concerned about Pakistan Taliban finding sanctuary within Afghanistan but ignores Pakistan's decade + history of allowing sanctuary to terrorist within your borders. Hypocritical?
Kamal Khan
Jan 14, 2013 09:27pm
Americans are already trying to pacify Taliban.
M. Asghar
Jan 14, 2013 08:26pm
Yes, the Afghans have to be left alone away from the foreign geopolitical mayhem, to find their way with their neighbours.