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A tale of two meetings

July 12, 2015

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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

AFGHAN Taliban meet Afghan government. Everyone looks to Pakistan. Nawaz meets Modi. Everyone looks to Modi, and wonders what the boys here make of it.

The good news is that we’re in the news for the right reasons. Security via diplomacy and peace tables. The bad news is that the real action is elsewhere — and those elsewheres may be undermining the good news.

Start with Afghanistan. The story goes something like this. Everyone knows Ghani wanted to do things differently with Pakistan. Neither beg nor demand, it was a new kind of risky pragmatism.


Modi didn’t want to talk, Modi is a hawk, Modi turned up the heat, Modi is to blame. All true enough on the Pak-India front.


Much of what Ghani has said or done has played out in public because private communications alone would not have sent the signal needed. By instigating the ire of his countrymen, perhaps Ghani could convince the boys here that he wasn’t drawing them into a trap.

So, Ghani was forceful and emphatic — and the world could see that if nothing good happened with Pakistan, he’d be seriously hurt at home. To win sometimes you have to show you’re ready to lose it all.

It was not left open-ended though. Word has it that Ghani indicated March or thereabouts was the maximum he could wait before pulling back and figuring out his next options. March or thereabouts coincided with the start of the spring offensive, the real measure of how things are going in Afghanistan.

Then, there was the Pakistani side. The boys said yes, we’ll help you out and these are the things we’ll do. It was specific stuff and pretty impressive. If it materialised, the war would be reined in and the peace process amped up.

Many wondered if it was too good to be true. But there it was, in black and white. And straight from the chief himself. Actionables. Deliverables. Real, measurable stuff.

Then, nothing happened. It seemed odd. Surely, the chief wouldn’t lie. Double games are one thing, but to be blunt and specific and give your word and then have little happen was odd. It broke the unspoken rules of such stuff.

Slowly, opinion crystallised. Raheel had wanted to and meant what he said, but perhaps we had over-promised. It wasn’t an intra-institution misreading, but an external one.

Basically, Raheel had lined up all his ISI, army high command ducks in a row, but there had been assumptions made about how and when the Afghan Taliban ducks would be lined up.

Turns out, according to this theory, Pakistan wasn’t really able to line up the Afghan Taliban ducks as quickly or in the way the boys thought they could. Too many ducks with opinions of their own, apparently. A divided Taliban, with many recalcitrant ducks, apparently.

OK, so we over-promised. But a promise is a promise. And folk outside just weren’t seeing the kind of pressure on the AfgT inside Pakistan that they believed we had. If the carrot wasn’t working, then why the hell weren’t we using the stick instead?

Rough up the AfgT a bit. Arrest the troublemakers among them. Squeeze their movements. Create trouble for the families. Make the Taliban feel the heat.

But we mostly stuck to coaxing and cajoling. It was maddening and maddeningly slow. Plodding Foreign Office diplomacy has nothing on ISI diplomacy.

The sceptics though are wary. Essentially, the AfgT have taken what the Americans were reluctant to do — talk and fight — and run with it. The vicious and sprawling spring offensive has left the Afghan government reeling and presumably that much more amenable to giving whatever they need to at the bargaining table.

Meanwhile, the AfgT are comfortable either way. They needn’t hurry to talk because they have the momentum on the battlefield. Let the enemy limp to the end of the fighting season and on into a long, cold, miserable winter of dark thoughts and uglier choices.

A policy that looks like it’s changed but still yields the same results? Only in Pakistan.

On to India. Modi didn’t want to talk, Modi is a hawk, Modi turned up the heat, Modi is to blame. All true enough on the Pak-India front.

Also true: Modi is learning on the job. When he became agitated, the world got alarmed and the influential parts of the world stepped in. You guys can’t squabble away like this, influential parts of the world said.

We were always going to listen and Modi has learned that he has to defer to — or be seen to defer to — the outside world on occasion. But you can tell neither side really has its heart in it.

Nawaz is rightly miffed that Modi turned out to be the hawk that folk had warned he would be. But Nawaz being miffed can’t obscure that Nawaz had already failed at Step One, which was to bring the boys on board.

Without the boys on board, it doesn’t matter who’s in Delhi. Pak-India can’t be figured out or even worked on if civ-mil hasn’t been figured out or even worked on.

If we can figure that out sitting over here, you can imagine what a hawk sitting in Delhi would make of it. Talk to Nawaz when the boys won’t listen? Uhuh.

And that arrogance and complacency is what makes the hawk in Delhi the best friend of the boys here: the boys get status quo, but Delhi gets the blame.

Security via diplomacy and peace tables is always good news. But when the real action may be elsewhere, brace yourself for bad news.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2015

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