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The obstacles ahead

May 22, 2013

IT would be naïve on the part of the new government as it formulates its policy towards Afghanistan, not to recognise that there is a nexus of sorts between the terrorist attacks in Pakistan and those in Afghanistan. Both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban pursue not only their so-called religious goals but more mundanely cover for their criminal activities.

Forces intent on pursuing their smuggling, drug trafficking and other criminal activities have a vested interest in keeping the entire Pak-Afghan border aflame.

It is my estimate that the value of goods smuggled into Pakistan annually through Afghanistan amounts to about $5 billion and there is an official estimate by UNODC, the United Nations agency for drug and crime control, that 45pc of the opium produced in Afghanistan moves into Pakistan. In the past we have turned a blind eye towards this because it was felt that smuggling was the one way to provide employment to the impoverished youth of the tribal areas. The employment effect we should recognise is minimal. What we have achieved instead is a tacit acceptance of a culture of corruption, which more than any other factor has contributed to eroding the moral fibre of our bureaucracy and, by extension, of our society.

If the new government wishes to bring order back to our society tackling this issue must be one of our foremost priorities.

President Karzai as he nears the end of his term is seeking to deliberately fan the flames of Afghan and more particularly Pakhtun nationalism with regard to the Durand Line. This he hopes will burnish his credentials and facilitate victory for his designated successor — his brother is now a declared candidate.

It was during Nawaz Sharif’s last stint in office that the Taliban were recognised by Pakistan and there was much talk of Mr Sharif as the ‘conqueror of Kabul’. Clearly the incoming prime minister entertains no such ambitions now but given the past history fomenting distrust of Pakistan has become easier for Karzai.

Karzai will keep talking of reconciliation but no positive movement is discernible. The Americans are not battling him on this issue. At the meeting of the US-Afghan bilateral commission this month the American representative said that America supports the opening of a Taliban office in Doha only “for the purpose of negotiations between the (Afghan) High Peace Council and the authorised representatives of the Taliban”.

The Taliban, in my view will move towards such negotiations only after there has been, through US-Taliban negotiations, an exchange of prisoners and in return a Taliban pledge to renounce ties with international terrorist organisations.

Reconciliation, it now seems, must wait upon Karzai’s departure from Afghanistan’s political scene. Pakistan may be seen to have no choice but I would argue that even while Karzai paints Pakistan in the worst colours and even while he offers the red rag of seeking an Indian military presence in Afghanistan our new government must for our own stability continue its efforts with Karzai.

I would recommend that Pakistan ask Kabul to hand over the TTP leader Maulvi Faqir Mohammad and in return offer to release such of the Taliban in Pakistan’s custody as Afghanistan’s High Peace Council thinks would help reconciliation.

Second I would recommend that, Afghan provocations along the border notwithstanding, Pakistan must continue its policy of not engaging in a propaganda battle. Instead, using contacts in the Afghan media and in Afghan political circles, we should make clear through authenticated maps that we have not at any point established posts or gates on the Afghan side of the Durand Line.

It has now been confirmed that the US in its negotiations with Afghanistan has asked for maintaining its forces in nine Afghan bases after 2014. The purpose would be to train Afghan forces and to target the remnants of Al Qaeda. The force level has yet to be determined but indications are that it would be about 8,000 with another 4,000 coming from the International Security Assistance Force allies. The Afghans will, in my view, grant as the Americans have insisted, immunity to these forces from the application of Afghan law. Our new government must decide what its stance will be.

Anti-American sentiment is now part of the Pakistani psyche but we must not take a public stance against such an American presence because without this presence it is unlikely that foreign aid in any substantial quantity will continue either for the maintenance of Afghan forces or for the civil sector. Pakistan will bear the brunt of the consequent economic collapse. Without reconciliation, a civil war in Afghanistan is inevitable but a residual American presence may help put it off and give efforts at reconciliation a chance.

In my view, in his speech on counterterrorism and the use of drones on Thursday, President Barack Obama will reiterate the view that the “war against terror” will continue for many years to come and the drone policy in the region will be unchanged. If there are no bases in Afghanistan, bases in Central Asia or ships in the Arabian Sea will be used.

Washington’s decision-making circles are permeated with ill-will towards Pakistan. Many hold Pakistan responsible for the Afghan debacle while glossing over American errors contributing to this denouement. And yet setting our economy in order will need American assistance. Facilitating American withdrawal and muting concerns on the methods Americans employ in their war on terror should therefore be part of the policy that the new government fashions.

For America and for Afghanistan Pakistan’s internal war against terrorism is extremely important. No one questions the value of seeking a solution through dialogue but who should be the partners in such a dialogue?

In a recent interview, Sartaj Aziz, the most experienced foreign policy adviser of the incoming prime minister, recalled that Nawaz Sharif has said he would talk only to such groups as “accept Pakistan’s Constitution and democratic system”. This, one hopes, will in fact be the policy.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.