New narrative on Afghanistan
09 October, 2013
By Malik Muhammad Ashraf
Since the advent of Nawaz government there has been a discernible paradigm shift in regards to our relations with Afghanistan. The narrative of Afghanistan providing strategic depth evolved by the security establishment which has done an incalculable harm to our own security and jeopardized our strategic regional interests, finally seems off the table and a new narrative of friendly relations with Afghanistan on the basis of sovereign equality and friendship is taking shape with the express desire to support and facilitate the process of reconciliation in that war ravaged country, maintaining a neutral stance.
The PML-N government lost no time in making positive overtures towards Afghanistan to remove the ambience of mistrust that the Karzai government seemed obsessed with and that made it look askance at any effort by Pakistan to improve relations with Kabul and the initiatives launched by her to nudge the process of peace and reconciliation. It is pertinent to mention that in spite of the fact that Pakistan played a significant role in facilitating the Doha talks that were publicly acknowledged by the US government, Karzai accused Pakistan of sabotaging them. In an interview with a Pakistani journalist Salim Saifi he accused the Pakistani establishment of hindering the peace process in Afghanistan.
With a view to dilute this hostile posture of Karzai towards Pakistan, advisor on foreign affairs was sent to Afghanistan to meet the Afghan leadership and an invitation was extended to Karazai to visit Pakistan. These efforts have already started showing positive results. As a consequence of Karzai's visit to Pakistan and on his request, seven Taliban leaders were released and recently Mullah Baradar a high ranking Taliban leader, considered to be the most important person who could fast-track rapprochement between Taliban and Karzai government has also been set free. This gesture by Pakistan has been welcomed by Karzai and Afghan High Peace Council. The foreign minister of Afghanistan has termed it a first serious and sincere move by Pakistan to nudge the peace process in that country. That indeed is a very encouraging portent in regards to Pakistan proving its credentials as a honest broker of peace in Afghanistan.
Another very significant and perhaps a game changing development is that the security establishment in Pakistan is also gradually coming to subscribe to the view the new narrative regarding relations with Afghanistan and re-aligning our strategic interests with the emerging geo-political realities. For the first time the elected government seems in the driving seat in formulating and giving new dimensions to our Afghan policy. No progress in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan was possible without unanimity of views between the government and the security establishment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif deserves the credit for bringing this about.
Hamid Karzai has urged the Taliban to participate in the coming elections and seek the mandate of the Afghan people to rule Afghanistan. The Taliban, though still adamant to negotiate peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan before the withdrawal of the occupying forces and not accepting any government installed through what they call sham elections, yet the message by Mullah Omar on Eid-ul-Fitr did contain a ray of hope in regards to the settlement of disputes among the Afghan factions. It says "When the occupation ends, reaching an understanding with the Afghans will not be a hard task because by adhering to and having common principles and culture, the Afghans understand each other better. But the invaders and their allies are creating obstacles in the way of resolving problems by making various pretexts". The message, also contained two very encouraging indicators; the acknowledgement of the necessity for modern education along with learning the religious teachings and the willingness to have an inclusive government.
Despite the difference of opinion on whether the reconciliation in Afghanistan should precede the US-NATO or take place after their withdrawal, there is an unmistakable desire for burying the hatchet and arriving at an Afghan-led and Afghan owned settlement of the conflict. Pakistan can surely help in bringing about a consensus position on this issue. The desirable and ostensibly durable solution to the Afghan conundrum probably can be sealed through rapprochement coming before the withdrawal of the US-NATO forces, coinciding with US Taliban agreement on mutually acceptable withdrawal schedule of foreign troops. Pakistan also is in a strong position to facilitate that understanding.
Peace in Afghanistan is very crucial for extricating Pakistan from the clutches of terrorism and religious extremism, which to a great extent, is related to the conflict in that country and our coerced participation in the war on terror. In the obtaining situation, Pakistan must continue its efforts to facilitate US pull out from Afghanistan and playing a role in having the differences among Afghan stakeholders resolved through peaceful means if possible without appearing to be taking sides in line with the new narrative. Facilitating US exit from Afghanistan as per the announced schedule would end drone attacks in Pakistan and also to a great extent dilute resentment against the Pakistan government and the security establishment among the TTP ranks which eventually might pave the way for talks with them which our Prime Minister is so keen to initiate to ensure peace within our own borders. God forbid, the failure of the attempts to bring about reconciliation in Afghanistan before the exit of NATO forces might re-ignite old animosities and plunge the country into factional fighting for ascendancy with its negative fall out on Pakistan.
The writer is a freelance columnist.