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Positive signs

December 05, 2012

“I THINK the Pakistanis actually are pressing forward because, like a lot of people in the region, they recognise that 2014 is not so far away.…” It has taken long for a briefing by Washington to sound so positive about Pakistan. This feeling is obviously inspired by steps taken by Islamabad to facilitate peace in Afghanistan and the US withdrawal by 2014. The thaw was under way when, in mid-November, Pakistan decided to free some Afghan Taliban to boost the Hamid Karzai government’s peace efforts. Nato has welcomed the step and said Pakistan’s engagement was important to “ensure long-term stability in Afghanistan and the region”. The stress on “the region” in statements by both the US and Nato is reflective of an approach that in Pakistan has been termed as simplistic and dismissive of national interests. At a Security Council meeting in Brussels on Monday, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani inserted a crucial proviso in the peace plan. He favoured an “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led” reconciliation process. This was a reminder that Pakistan’s support will be subject to the peace process not being harmful to its interests. That would require solid measures to ensure that no security vacuum is created in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal. Also, the Pakistani establishment will be keeping a close eye on the space that the process allows to India and certain Afghan groups that are traditionally hostile to Pakistan.

Much hope has been attached to the ongoing Nato meetings at Brussels. But let us not forget the event is taking place when the US has just re-elected Mr Obama as president and Pakistan is expected to have a general elec-tion soon. As Washington re-evaluates its stance against a tight deadline, chances are it will decide to continue its positive overtures towards Pakistan, just as there is every possibility that Islamabad will be subjected to the comparatively soft-handed ‘do more’ nudges in the coming months. Again, given the time frame, the US and Mr Karzai may want to press on with their contacts for reconciliation — even though it is uncertain how much influence these contacts actually wield on the Taliban.

The Pakistani political leadership in the meanwhile will be confronted with a difficult course. With polls scheduled for the summer of 2013, it would want to not upset the US. Yet, in these times of rampant anti-Americanism, this political leadership will seem too close to Washington at its own peril. This is perhaps one major reason why Pakistanis, when they are talking peace in Afghanistan, would want to appear to be doing it for the sake of the Afghans only.