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Chance to reset ties: Karzai visit

August 13, 2013

IF Afghan President Hamid Karzai does visit Pakistan later this month — on Aug 26 according to an Afghan presidency source quoted in this newspaper yesterday — it will be an opportunity to try and reset ties that appear to have frayed to the extreme. Mr Karzai has made public the depths of his suspicions, if not outright hostility, towards Pakistan in recent months, so a visit to Islamabad would appear to be a conciliatory gesture towards this country. Notwithstanding the Pakistani security establishment’s own apprehensions about Mr Karzai, the focus should be on the ultimate goal: a reconciliation process with the Afghan Taliban that helps ensure a moderately stable Afghanistan post-2014. In that regard, the Afghan president still has a role to play, even if he suspects that Pakistani and American officials have acceded to the Afghan Taliban’s demand to cut the Afghan president and his High Peace Council out of the negotiating process.

The simple fact of the matter in a country where nothing is simple and little is established as fact is that the only way of achieving the desirable outcome in Afghanistan is to have the Afghan power centres work out an agreement among themselves. For now, the Afghan Taliban’s reluctance to talk to Mr Karzai and Mr Karzai’s suspicion that he is being kept out of the loop has stymied the much-talked-about Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. While Afghan-owned and Afghan-led has never quite reflected reality — from the US and Pakistan to sundry other European and Gulf-Arab countries, much coaxing and cajoling of the Afghan government and Taliban is involved — the key to a workable reconciliation process is for the Afghan sides to believe reconciliation is viable and to be invested in the process.

Mr Karzai does appear to believe reconciliation can yield results, which is why he has touted his favoured track via the High Peace Council over routes in which he appears to believe he will have less of a say. In his visit to Islamabad, then, the Afghan president’s fears about the Doha process should be placated and the emphasis should be on restarting the dialogue process, whether in Doha or somewhere else or whether in the original framework or a new one. From the outside, it is next to impossible to know if Doha is salvageable, but the dialogue process must be salvaged. For years now the clock has been winding down, which is precisely why urgency matters more than ever. A smooth visit by President Karzai could be just the re-ignition that is needed.