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Pakistan to remain aligned with Afghan Pashtuns

November 30, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Nov 29: As the endgame in Afghanistan draws near, strategists in Islamabad have decided in principle to remain closely aligned with the Afghan Pashtuns instead of seeking new allies.

“Retaining ties with the Pashtuns is a crucial security imperative for us,” a senior Pakistani official claimed in a background interview with Dawn a day before Afghan Foreign Minister Dr Zalmai Rassoul is to travel to Islamabad for discussing various possibilities with his Pakistani interlocutors on furthering the political process in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Mr Rassoul, besides holding talks with his counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, will meet a number of other Pakistani leaders.

Other proposals being pushed by Pakistan include a ceasefire as a confidence-building measure for the desired political process and holding the 2014 presidential elections as part of reconciliation. Islamabad cast its first card in the Afghan reconciliation game earlier this month by releasing a batch of almost a dozen mid-ranking Taliban detainees during Afghan High Peace Council’s visit to Pakistan.

“It appears as if everyone’s rushing to the exit and, therefore, we need to play our cards wisely to protect our own interests and pre-empt the 1989-like situation,” the official said.

Among various scenarios being projected by Pakistani think-tanks about the post-2014 Afghanistan, the only one that suits Pakistan is a successful reconciliation process.

It is feared that Pakistan would have to bear the fallout of instability in Afghanistan, if not addressed, including a likely influx of refugees, continued violence in the country, particularly in tribal areas, and aggravation of economic conditions.

“The cost of non-settlement of Afghan problem and the resultant chaos there would be too high a price for us,” the official observed.

Islamabad had for a couple of years tried to reach out to elements of the erstwhile Northern Alliance, but with limited success because of deep-seated mistrust on both sides.

“They (non-Pashtun elements, who have traditionally been Pakistan’s political rivals in Afghanistan) are not forthcoming, they aren’t flexible,” the official claimed in reply to a question about the outcome of Pakistan’s efforts to mend fences with them.

The insistence by non-Pashtuns on conditions about acceptance of the Afghan Constitution and renunciation of violence, among others, is being seen by Islamabad as an attempt to keep Taliban, who are opposed to pre-conditions, out of the reconciliation process.

Former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar had earlier this month told Senate’s defence committee that the best bet for Pakistan was to allow people of Afghanistan to decide their future by themselves.

He had advised against continuing with the old approach of hoping for a friendly government in Kabul.

Former Ambassador to the US Maleeha Lodhi, at the same meeting, had also counselled for an Afghan solution instead of seeking a Pashtun solution.

STRATEGIC DIALOGUE: While Pakistan still hopes for a strategic partnership agreement with Kabul, hopes for any progress on that count were low.

“The Afghans aren’t enthusiastic about it,” the official claimed, dispelling the impression that the two sides were on the verge of beginning negotiations on the agreement.

TRILOGUE: Senior officials from Pakistan, China and Afghanistan on Thursday held second meeting of their trilateral dialogue.

A statement issued at the conclusion of the meeting said: “The three countries agreed that close and consistent cooperation among regional countries is essential to overcome trends of violence. They reiterated their commitment to cooperate in fight against terrorism, extremism and separatism.”

The three countries also saw an important role for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in dealing with the emerging security, political and economic challenges.