Karzai`s tough talk

Published November 12, 2011

THERE must be some method to the 'aggressive' tone that Afghan President Hamid Karzai adopted during his meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the margins of the Saarc summit in Addu, the Maldives, on Friday. Although officials have tried to project that the talks were held in a cordial atmosphere, the Pakistani leader was reportedly taken aback by the force with which the Afghan president asked him to provide earnest help in probing the assassination of Afghan peace jirga chief Burhanuddin Rabbani. Mr Karzai is known for his blow-hot, blow-cold performances, especially with regard to Pakistan. But there has to be a motive behind whichever face he chooses to present on a specific occasion.

It has been observed that the meeting took place not too long after Mr Karzai's talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. India has a large aid programme in Afghanistan and a strategic cooperation treaty with Kabul. In the hostile environment that has long permeated this region, a logical explanation for Mr Karzai's tough talk with Pakistan could be found in his growing closeness to New Delhi — sufficient 'proof' of an Afghan 'sell-out' to India and the consequent Afghan wariness towards Pakistan. However, some recent developments defy this old approach to understanding positions in the region.

Islamabad is striving to secure not only a political role in Afghan peace talks, it also wants its share in the emerging trade conduit in Afghanistan that is to link South and Central Asia. A few months before the signing of the India-Afghanistan strategic pact, Islamabad resolved a long-standing issue by concluding the Afghan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement in June this year. Also, Pakistan is making a serious attempt to forge a working relationship with India, especially by deciding to give the latter the status of Most Favoured Nation to facilitate not only bilateral but also regional trade. All these moves are anchored by the US, which finds it prudent to remind Islamabad that the India-Afghanistan partnership has taken into account Pakistani concerns and therefore does not (for the moment at least) entail the execution of the controversial proposal under which India was to train the Afghan security forces. At a time when the latest Saarc summit has attracted adjectives such as 'ground-breaking' from business watchers, Mr Karzai appears to be fully aware of the value of a potential South Asian trade bloc to Pakistan. This is an opportune moment for him to demand decisive steps on contentious issues, such as Mr Rabbani's assassination. With both the US and India sharing his concerns on terrorism, Mr Karzai appears confident he has got might on his side. Observers would say he is not acting on impulse.

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