AN initial salvo relating to Pakistan’s alleged links with the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network was fired on Sept 12 by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta who threatened that the US would attack the Haqqani network if Pakistan failed to act.

Later, Adm Mike Mullen, the most senior US military leader, poured more oil on the fire by remarking at a special hearing in the US Senate: “….the Haqqani network [is] a potent part of the insurgency battling American forces in Afghanistan”, and a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI.

He also accused the agency of supporting an attack on the US embassy in Kabul, perpetrated by Haqqani militants last month. These assertions were rejected by Pakistani leaders during the All-Party Conference (APC) held in response to the charges; except for Mr Nawaz Sharif and Mr Achakzai, other political representatives considered the military and the ISI to be blameless.

Recently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called off the peace talks with the Taliban after the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani. Afghan elements are implicating Pakistan in the murder. President Karzai commented, “I cannot find the Taliban council. Where is it? I don’t have any other answer except to say that the other side for this negotiation is Pakistan.” Others are projecting the murder to be a red-herring operation to sabotage the peace talks, as Mr Rabbani was reportedly being supported in his efforts by Pakistan.

The APC was held in Islamabad on Sept 29 under the shadow of these charges. Participants at the conference rejected allegations that Pakistan was responsible for the killings of US troops and offered unqualified support to the military “in defeating any threat to national security”.

Whether through oversight or otherwise, the APC made no reference to either the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Neither did it mention the threat posed by these parties to the Pakistani state or international security. Instead, with a remarkable display of collective amnesia in terms of earlier peace talk failures, the conference recommended further talks with “our own people in the tribal areas”.

The APC offered full support to Pakistan’s defence forces and vowed to protect national sovereignty and “national interest”. The conference also urged the implementation of earlier parliamentary resolutions, passed in October 2008 and May 2011, on the insurgency.

Will the declaration by the APC have any bearing on Pakistan’s anti-insurgency policies? It may be noted that the APC is at best a meeting of political stakeholders. Any declaration made by this forum has no binding force, at best indicating national unity in the face of a potentially threatening situation.

While it provided comfort to the beleaguered military and ISI, some commentators suggest that no reforms are likely to emerge from these discussions and work will continue in as directionless a manner as earlier. That is sad indeed, because a frank and open discussion between the civil and military leadership during the APC could have steered Pakistan towards better outcomes. That, unfortunately, did not happen.

What is unfolding amounts to a game-changer for the whole region. The events transpiring now are not random occurrences and should be viewed as a crossroads that will lead to different outcomes depending on the choices we make as a nation. Pakistan has the option to follow any of the possible trajectories.

Today’s events are the result of decisions made by prominent players in the region — the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. This is not to say that other nations such as Iran, China, Russia or others are irrelevant; they will have a bearing on the future. Yet what should be noted is Pakistan’s limited flexibility.

Most Pakistanis may have been hurt by Adm Mullen’s comments but sober reflection suggests that his statement were perhaps underpinned by frustration for failing to bring about a shift in Pakistan’s security paradigm towards more positive outcomes. These include peace in Afghanistan and enhancing international security. In this sense, Adm Mullen may have done Pakistan a service by defining the correct course.

If Pakistan wants to make itself secure, the implementation of Clause IX of the APC’s declaration will be important. According to it, “Pakistan shall continue to endeavour to promote stability and peace at the regional and global planes, in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law”. An implementation framework for achieving this goal would go some way towards countering the stringent criticism facing us and as described by Maulana Fazlur Rehman: “…the US [may] bring a resolution in the UN against Pakistan’s nuclear programme or declare it a terrorist country.” These are dangerous possibilities.

If the recommendations of the APC are to become the work of government, then the resolution must be taken through the National Assembly under Chapter XV of its procedural codes. It must be transformed into midterm strategy with an implementation plan that is monitored by an all-party steering committee, so that the necessary directions are provided to ministerial implementing divisions.

This would constitute an institutional approach that allows also for the political control of anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency policies.

It is likely that Clause II and III will cause the greatest challenge. These direct the signing of peace deals with those challenging the Pakistani state in the tribal areas. Peace deals have not worked before, so what has changed now to suggest that they will henceforth succeed? Moreover, the wording of the resolution does not include negotiating peace in Swat with the militants.

If further steps for the implementation of the resolution are ignored, the convening of the APC may turn out to be just another exercise in rhetoric.

The writer is chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar.



Updated 21 May, 2022

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