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Afghanistan’s message

Published Oct 17, 2012 12:15am


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IN the past few weeks there has been little to suggest that President Karzai, let alone the Afghan people, continue to think of Pakistan and Afghanistan as “conjoined twins”, a phrase that President Hamid Karzai had coined some years ago.

What we saw, instead, in the Afghan media and in the statements of Afghan parliamentarians, was condemnation of “unprovoked” Pakistani shelling of Afghan villages in Kunar province, from where the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s Mullah Fazlullah and his men had been launching attacks against Pakistan, and a violent rejection of the proposed Strategic Partnership Agreement. (The latter, according to our reports, had been proposed by President Karzai himself to President Asif Ali Zardari in New York.)

We also saw the setting of impossible conditions for such an agreement by President Karzai and, last but not least, heard complaints that the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement was not being implemented by Pakistan causing grievous losses to Afghan traders.

In this very polluted atmosphere it was heartening to note the reaction in Afghanistan to the Taliban attack on Malala Yousufzai, now being treated in a hospital in Birmingham, and her two school friends. Not only did President Karzai telephone President Zardari to convey his condemnation of the attack and his sympathy for the family but in a very touching gesture the Afghan education ministry organised a prayer for Malala last Saturday in 16,000 schools across the country.

Some Afghan commentators pointed out that this gesture of solidarity came despite the fact that no such solidarity or sympathy had been expressed by Pakistan when hundreds of Afghan girls’ schools were faced with poison attacks by the Taliban and dozens of girls’ schools were burnt down or closed because of the intimidation by the Taliban. While this was not the main theme of the Afghan media, it does tend to highlight that despite viewing Afghanistan as a “conjoined twin” our media and our policymakers have been too pusillanimous to condemn inhuman actions by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Afghan gesture was prompted, perhaps, by a humanitarian impulse but there is no doubt that the Afghan government was seeking also to convey the message that both Pakistan and Afghanistan face the same existential threat from the same obscurantist forces.

There is no doubt either that they hope the public outrage in Pakistan, stronger perhaps than was provoked by the video showing the flogging of a Swati girl by Taliban persecutors, will mean the authorities will take the action that was implicitly if not explicitly promised in Gen Kayani’s statement when he was at Malala’s bedside and subsequently at what was said during the meeting of the joint chiefs of staff.

The world may hold over-centralised and incompetent governance, corruption, nepotism, warlords and the endemic distrust between the governors and the governed, along with resentment of the foreign presence, responsible for the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban. But from the Afghan government’s perspective the only problem is the safe havens the ‘armed opposition’ has in Pakistan. The Afghan claim is exaggerated but the fillip that our own Taliban receive from the presence of the Afghan Taliban cannot and should not be underestimated.

The sectarian killings, particularly of Hazaras in Balochistan, are by my reckoning laid at the door of our own extremist organisations but there is a well-known animus of the obscurantist Afghan Taliban towards the Hazaras and it would be reasonable to suspect that they have provided at the very least some support for these killings.

The most benign interpretation of our tolerance of the Afghan Taliban presence on our soil has been that they have a part to play in any future Afghan dispensation. But the time for negotiating what that role should be is now running out. Unfortunately, reconciliation seems to be something that is talked about but on which no progress is being made.

In a powerful and much longer than usual editorial recently, the New York Times has made the case that America must complete its pullout by end 2013 and not 2014 as currently planned. The point this editorial makes is that $500bn spent, 2,000 American soldiers dead, 45 per cent of returning Americans claiming disability benefits are all part of a price that is too high to pay when “the last chance of achieving victory evaporated when American troops went off to fight a pointless war in Iraq”.

The editorial has obviously been some time in the making. It reflects the general public view in America that the US must withdraw from any military commitment in Afghanistan. More importantly, withdrawal by end 2013 rather than 2014 is also a view that I have heard expressed by retired but extremely experienced, influential and hard-headed members of the American security establishment.

It is a view that has gained further credence following the exponential increase in ‘green on blue attacks’ and the conspicuous absence of any action on Karzai’s part to live up to the commitments made at Tokyo on curbing corruption. Instead, most American observers see his recent reshuffle of ministers and governors as steps taken to ensure that even if he does step down in 2014 as he has promised, he will be able to dictate the course of the election. The NYT editorial argues, in this context, that if the final mission for 2014 is to provide security for the 2014 elections this “seems dubious at best” and will only “lend American approval to a thoroughly corrupt system”.

Currently, Eklil Hakimi, the Afghan ambassador in Washington, and Ambassador James Warlick, Marc Grossman’s deputy, are in Kabul to commence negotiations on the terms and conditions for a residual US troop presence after the completion of Nato withdrawal in 2014. Afghan national security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta is speaking about Afghan reluctance to grant immunity from local jurisdiction to such American troops.

To my mind this is now academic. The prospect for a continued American presence after 2014, if they do stay that long, is dim. Assistance promised at Chicago for the armed forces and at Tokyo for economic assistance may be forthcoming if Afghanistan establishes greater accountability but even that is doubtful. Afghanistan, one can foresee, will be in serious trouble economically and politically.

I have been arguing in these columns for the last few months that Pakistan must recognise that this is the direction in which the endgame in Afghanistan is headed. The Malala incident is a warning that unless civil society and our military and political establishment pull together and start a cleaning operation Pakistan will go in the same direction and will not be in any position to cope with the fallout from the brewing Afghan crisis.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (11) Closed

does not matter Oct 17, 2012 02:40pm
India needs transit routes to central asian countries for trade and get energy resources from them. These are the only interest of India in Afghanistan. This will also help Afghanistan as they may get fee for transit routes. Now for Pakistan to get upset about India training Afghan military, it has no ground. Afghanistan is free country and can choose who so ever is wants to partner with for any thing they need. Its up to Pakistan to stop poking its nose in others matters and stop being a paranoid country.
Arshad Oct 17, 2012 05:39am
Very good article. Thousands of been killed in Afghanistan but Pakistan's government and media never expressed sympathy. We faced this tragedy once while they are facing everyday. Now Pakistan should change its present behaviour towards Afghanistan.
Pradeep Oct 17, 2012 06:42am
Too much infighting and the warlord behavior of Afghan present politicians is not helping their Country. All that is needed now is the strength and dedication in achieving improvement and cashing on in the World involvement for the betterment of Afghanistan by doing that they could expect more economical help and get rid of the idea that Afghanistan is lost cause for rest of the World .
P N Eswaran Oct 17, 2012 11:06am
For peace in the region Afghanistan must stop feeding the Pakistani Taliban and Pakistan should stop feeding the Afghan Taliban. Taliban is a hydra-headed snake which will devour both the states. Pakistan is a brutalized state where the daily occurrences of tragedies has in-sensitised human sensibilities unless the tragedy has a face like the Malala episode. The American anxiety to get out of Afghanistan by end 2014 or earlier is fraught with great risk first for Pakistan and Afghanistan and then for America itself.
From Indian Oct 17, 2012 03:46am
USA is not going to leave Afghanistan by any stretch of imagination. It is there to get Afghanistan minerals and keep a tab on russia and China and pakistan.
Aamir Oct 17, 2012 10:56am
good article and rightly highlights our lack of sympathy towards Afghans
Rakesh Oct 17, 2012 04:29pm
Tahir: Of course you are quite correct in your assumption about Indian aid to Afghanistan. However, India is only building roads and schools there. Afghan army training may not be Pak specific. Pakistan is also free to contribute towards Afghan development too. Merely threatening Afghans with Taliban is a negative contribution only.
zaidisportraiture Oct 17, 2012 04:23pm
the gentleman could not have put it in a better way. The quest to acquire resources is the key to economic domination, that is been going on ruthlessly at the expense of humamity for centuries.
Tahir Oct 17, 2012 08:16am
Perhaps the author didn't shed more light on the background of current Pak-Afghan mistrust and bad mouthing against each other, this is a fact that current Afghan consisting of formerly known Northern Allaince has been leaning towards India in training Afghan Army, Police, Govt officials. This will of course upset Pakistan as India being its arch-rival in the region. India is has also vested interest in Afghanistan and that has alot to do with its relationship with Pakistan. If this is not the case why dont India offer similar help to Somalia or Burma? Of course it is in everrybody's interest that to have a better relationship between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India but for that to happen all of the three have to work, not just Pakistan.
Tahir Oct 17, 2012 08:18am
Agree with the author, everybody in Pakistan must understand they must get rid of these militants if they want a better future for their children.
Feroz Oct 17, 2012 08:14am
Very sensible article. People have failed to read the Tea leaves, Pakistan has far more supporters of the Taliban than Afghanistan. Trying to insert the Taliban into Power in Afghanistan would be akin to Harakiri for Pakistan.