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Two steps back: Afghan government’s remarks

March 29, 2013

IN recent years there has been a growing acknowledgment among both Western and regional players that talking to the Afghan Taliban needs to be a multipronged effort involving not just Afghanistan but also the United States, other Western powers, Pakistan and some of the Gulf states. This has led to some inefficient overlaps that have likely also confused the process, and it isn’t clear what these players mean by an ‘Afghan-led process’ when they’ve all been involved. But the basic idea is a sound one: that the Taliban don’t trust the Afghan government, that therefore the US and neutral countries are needed to move the process forward, and that Pakistan has a role in releasing Afghan prisoners and facilitating the Taliban’s passage for talks. Recent events, including Pakistan’s release of prisoners and public declarations of collaboration between Kabul and Islamabad on the peace process, have supported that idea. So the Afghan government’s very public accusations on Wednesday that Pakistan is not cooperating — and that it wants to see “the fragmentation of the Afghan state” — threatens to undo the progress that has been made.

The nature of the Afghan foreign minister’s remarks suggested that they stemmed from a couple of specific concerns. First, the Afghan government — and Mr Karzai’s — fear of being marginalised as a number of countries try to steer the situation in Afghanistan as the Americans leave. Second, a concern that Pakistan is talking to the Afghan opposition as well. Mr Karzai’s accusation earlier this month that the US is colluding with the Taliban in order to provide justification for an extended presence there smacked of similar suspicions about the intentions of other countries. But Afghanistan’s current transition cannot be successful without the participation of the West and the region and without a broad-based dialogue with Afghans, including the current government, the Taliban and other ethnic groups. Mr Karzai would do well to concentrate on that broader picture if he wishes to leave behind a legacy of successfully moving Afghanistan into the next phase of its history.