18 June, 2007
By Farzana Shah
The ensuing Pak-Afghan Jirga – a commission for peace - is being viewed with great expectations to usher in peace in the region particularly be able to deal with the violence in Afghanistan. However, before getting too optimistic over the formation, the role and the outcome of such a Jirga, Pakistan needs to have a realistic look at the intricacies involved and their repercussion on her own sovereignty. It was announced at the end of the recently held meeting of the commission in Pakistan that Taliban would not form part of the Peace Commission. Such exclusion of one of the main parties to the conflict, itself negates the very purpose of the formation of the commission. Analysts are already skeptical about the possibility of any durable peace through the joint Jirga commission sans Taliban.
We need to examine closely the possible motives behind formation of such a body wherein a key player-Taliban-is missing and instead stress is laid on the inclusion of tribesmen from Pakistan. By looking at the structure, mechanism and the main architect behind the proposed Jirga, one doesn’t have to be a Socrates to see through the motives behind it, and, for engaging Pakistan in an unnecessary exercise complicating matters further for her. The idea of the joint Jirga is the brain child of Mr. Karzai whose hostility towards Pakistan is no more a secret. In fact the antennae of the Foreign Office should have gone up instantly the moment Afghan president thought of engaging Pakistani tribesmen for a solution to a domestic conflict going on inside Afghanistan! Such a Machiavellian scheme needs analyzing in depth keeping the overall situation in view.
The practice of holding Jirgas to solve the problems in their respective tribal areas has been going on in both countries since ages. Due to the indigenous traditional sensitivities of the individual tribes and tribesmen, smaller Jirgas at the local level are held to decide the conflicting issues between them. Similarly Grand or Loay Jirgas are held at the national or country level. However it is for the first time that the two sovereign countries would hold a Joint Jirga which is not only unusual but tantamount to deciding the problems of one country by the other, which in the international diplomatic parlance is known as interfering in the internal affairs of another country. The proposed joint Jirga intends to engage about 700 tribal leaders and other influential elders from both sides. This seems to be a clever maneuver in line with the sometime back media reported intentions of Mr. Hamid Karzai to hold talks with the tribesmen on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border directly.
A Joint Jirga once formed would set the precedence and possibly continue working in future also for resolving the border issues through engaging the tribal leaders from both sides thus gradually undermining the role of the governments, specially the Pak government which is not as ethnic in Pushtoon character as the Afghan government is. Imperceptibly over the years it could result in passing on to the Afghans a direct access to our tribal areas and the tribesmen which will just suit Afghanistan’s designs on the Durand Line. Kabul’s efforts in charting Afghan ideological inroads into the Pak tribal territories with a view to inculcating the tribesmen there could make Karzai’s task of proving to the world the impracticality of the Durand Line far easier.
Strangely, Karzai wanted a third country to monitor the peace Jirga scheduled for August 2007, which was very wisely not agreed to by the Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. One wonders which third country except India had Karzai in mind and what kind of monitoring of the proceedings of the Jirga could Pakistan expect from her? It will, therefore, be not out of place to examine the India factor in a little detail.
India would have naturally jumped to the opportunity of playing the role of a mediator between the two countries which sounds rather amusing and open to question regarding the credibility of India for playing such a role. The most obvious of the obvious would be, “Would India want cordial relation between Pakistan and Afghanistan when she is already engaged in using Afghan soil for the terrorist activities inside Pakistan?” The Indian hand in creating problems in Balochistan is not new while the sabotage activities have also witnessed a sharp increase in NWFP with increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan, thanks to the seeds sown by Abdullah Abdullah and now being cleverly watered by President Karzai. The Indian consulates in Kandahar and Badakhshan and other provinces of Afghanistan are already busy like a bee and acting as the outpost for the outsourcing of intelligence of all kinds against Pakistan.
The Kandahar Governor Assadullah Khalid recently on May 24th 2007 openly admitted sheltering the so called Balochistan Liberation Army rebels in his area. He also offered to play a role between Pakistan and BLA rebels over stepping the Karzai government which lacks the required influence over the BLA and which the Indian backed Kandhar governor seems to have. The BLA is known to have been used by India as a double edged sword against Pakistan and Iran through Afghanistan. On one hand the BLA terrorists are facilitated by the hostile elements in Afghan government in entering Balochistan for sabotage activities. While on the other, they are used for similar ‘Larger Baluchistan’ activities in Iran, for which Pakistan is often accused by Iran. Who doesn’t know that by embittering the relations between Iran and Pakistan only India would stand to gain in the region?
India has been very active in creating anti-Pakistan feelings in Afghanistan and never let’s go of an opportunity to cash upon. During the recent border clashes in Tirimangal area of Parachinar Agency of Pakistan in May 2007 where 13 people were killed, India played up the event out of proportion. The protest led by three members of the Afghan parliament in Kabul was orchestrated by the Indian mission in Kabul and personally supervised and monitored as an operation by the Indian envoy Rakish Sood himself in Kabul.
Arranging of such protests against Pakistan by India in Kabul in the past also has been an on going feature. In it many a time the Pakistan embassy is mobbed, stoned, damaged and even burnt by the angry Afghans. The sole Indian objective being to create anti-Pakistan sentiments among the Afghans.
The matter did not rest here only, the suspended Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta – whose anti-Pakistan sentiments surpass that of his predecessor Abdullah Abdullah-- even sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon protesting against Pakistan over the issue.
Interestingly, no statement was issued by Hamid Karzai over the clashes or the Indian backed reaction of Afghans, though it is impossible to believe that he did not notice what all was happening under his very nose. In such a situation making our tribal areas directly accessible to a hostile Afghan government would be tantamount to paving way for the creation of more outposts for outsourcing intelligence for India against Pakistan and creating problems for our own sovereignty.
It is, therefore, highly imperative for Pakistan to take an in-depth stock of its future relationship with its Muslim and brotherly important neighbour - Afghanistan.
The very formation of the Jirga is flawed as the peace in Afghanistan is torn only by the Taliban who are fighting against the NATO forces, and they are being kept out of the Jirga! It is beyond understanding, when Karzai himself and the collision forces in Afghanistan are willing to hold talks with the anti-collision militia (Taliban), why Pakistan is being kept away from them. Or, is there some other nefarious design behind it than what meets the eye?
It is time Pakistan changed its policy towards the Taliban and instead of indulging in a futile exercise like the Joint Jirga, it offered to mediate between the warring factions - the Afghan government, the NATO coalition forces and the Taliban.
In 2001 Pakistan had to withdraw its support to Taliban, though half heartedly, and ever since has been causing damages to them by its pro-American policies. Pakistan is facing sever criticism internally as well as from certain external quarters for its most conspicuous U turn against the Taliban who were once considered to be the real asset for Pakistan. Never had Pakistan such cordial relations from any Afghan government than that of Taliban. We had no direct conflict with them nor had they done any sabotage activity inside Pakistan. Our borders with Afghanistan were much safer and securer under the Taliban regime there. No unrest of the sorts was witnessed in Waziristan or other tribal agencies of Pakistan. In hindsight, we made a big blunder by helping Karzai in getting elected.
Along with the U Turn it is unfortunate that we failed to formulate a clear policy towards Afghanistan since the fall of Taliban. Our Foreign Office should have foreseen the type of animosity towards Pakistan from the anti-Taliban elements – mostly from the North - who would occupy the corridors of power in Afghanistan. We destroyed all too suddenly all the bridges with the Pashtun Taliban putting our own interests and security at stake. If we had to get Karzai elected to the office of the President the prudence demanded that we had insisted as pre-condition upon chartering a clear course of action for the future relationship of the two countries and other parameters of trade and relations with the Afghans and the Afghan government which was anticipated to be dominated by the anti-Pakistan elements.
Pakistan has already done great damage to her security by supporting unequivocally and whole hoggedly the US on its War on Terror. Every possible mean was used to destroy our assets and good will in Afghanistan. What is most disappointing is that even then it did not win us the favour of the ungrateful Uncle Sam. We must, therefore, in the best interest of Pakistan and its posterity realize that we can no longer continue with this state of affairs at the cost and expense of our own national security. It is time that we adopted a more independent policy towards Afghan conflict and could play the role of a mediator between the Afghan government, the NATO forces and the Anti Coalition Militia fighting them. Pakistan should ask for the inclusion of the Pashtun Taliban in the Peace Commission without whom the peace Jirga would be just another toothless body. Even Russia, during its invasion of Afghanistan in the 80s, had to hold negotiations with the Mujahideen. Also, when the two sworn enemies US and Iran can come to the negotiating table after 50 years why can’t all the parties to the conflict sit on the same table in Afghanistan too?