Karzai believes or at least indicates publicly that the difficulties in advancing reconciliation have arisen because Pakistan has not cooperated. Pakistan, his spokesman says, has failed to release the Taliban prisoners Afghanistan wants specially Ghani Baradar Mullah Omar’s former No.2. Further, his spokesman alleges that at Chequers, Pakistan laid down 3 conditions for Pakistan’s cooperation. These were that Afghanistan limit its relations with India; reach a domestic consensus on peace; and immediately sign a strategic partnership with Pakistan…
After Salahuddin Rabbani’s visit to Pakistan in November last year Pakistan agreed to release Taliban prisoners it was holding and in batches, according to press reports, some 26 Taliban, many of them of high standing were released. Afghanistan complained rightly that they were not informed in advance of the Taliban release and could not therefore take advantage of the gesture. After Chequers, the Pakistanis agreed to notify the Afghans in advance according to a mechanism that had been worked out and the Pakistani Foreign Secretary sad that all Taliban prisoners Pakistan was holding would be released. Even while Afghanistan was right to complain that they had not received advance information about the release of the 26 Taliban Pakistan felt that there should have been a greater expression of gratitude by Karzai and more of an effort to sit with Pakistan and discuss the future releases that Pakistan had promised. This was unfortunately not done. And the question of further releases remains in limbo.
It is probably true that the Pakistani asked the Afghans to be sensitive to Pakistan’s concerns about the role India was seeking to play in Afghanistan. Recently after President Karzai visited India and, among other things, asked India for weapons and other military assistance the Pakistan Foreign Secretary publicly said that while Pakistan respects Afghanistan’s sovereign right to determine its relations with other countries Afghanistan should, in doing so, take account of the regional security situation. The expression of such concern however is not unique to South Asia. Every country while developing relations with one of its «neighbours» has to take account of the reactions of its other neighbours or of powers further afield. Many in Pakistan believe that Afghanistan, after having been a buffer state between two empires continues to follow a policy of playing off one regional power against the other without paying sufficient attention to the nature of the ties that geography and history dictate.
To my mind, Pakistan is needlessly apprehensive about India’s role in Afghanistan even while it is probably right in assuming that at least in part India seeks to cultivate Afghanistan to discomfit Pakistan. India is unlikely to become an arms supplier to Afghanistan nor will it, in the military field, go beyond the provision of some training facilities. But this it must be said is not a view shared by all power centres in Pakistan. There is the fear that the growing Indian presence in Afghanistan would be used to foment more difficulties in Pakistan's troubled province of Baluchistan.
Karzai is also right in saying that Pakistan has suggested that before talking to the Taliban Karzai should develop a national consensus taking on board the leaders of the ethnic groups that form part of the opposition. According to press reports Pakistani officials have suggested that as a way of kick starting the peace process, there should be a meeting attended by the Taliban and representatives from Afghanistan's multiple ethnic groups. In making this proposal Pakistan, its officials said, was not trying to exclude Karzai from the process, but rather to make sure that the Afghan president and the loyal opposition were on board for the details of the reconciliation process.
An Afghan spokesman speaking of this proposal said "Pakistan is continuing with delaying tactics in their support of the peace process by demanding a supposed intra-Afghan consensus on the peace process at a time that a national consensus to end the violence is the strongest it has ever been for the past decade,"
The truth however is that no such consensus exists. Ahmad Wali Masood, the brother of the late Ahmad Shah Masood and a recognised representative of the Tajiks and particularly of the Panjshir valley has said publicly, as I mentioned in my last article, that there is no consensus. Earlier, I was present at a Conference on Afghanistan in Berlin in January 2012 when at the insistence of the Karzai administration the Aspen Institute did not allow any of the invited Afghan «opposition representatives’ to participate in the conference. These opposition representatives then proceeded to have their own meeting with US Congressman Rohrabacher and to issue a press statement that called for, among other things, consultations between the government and the opposition to determine the modalities and details of the reconciliation process. Abdullah Abdullah, the prominent Tajik leader and the man who fought the Presidential election against Karzai in 2009, was not in Berlin for the meeting but was informed of it. He said «Almost everyone in Afghanistan is supportive of peace talks with the Taliban. We, too, hold this opinion. But we will only support the peace process if it is transparent and inclusive to the people of Afghanistan». The statement issued by the group in Germany made the same point saying that the peace negotiations with the Taliban were «flawed» because they excluded the anti-Taliban groups. This was of course the time when the Taliban were announcing that they had reached a preliminary agreement on the opening of their office in Qatar and were eagerly anticipating talks with the Americans for an exchange of prisoners and perhaps for reconciliation.
Repeatedly since then the Karzai administration has rejected any effort to have intra-afghan talks be it the follow up meeting to the meeting in Chantilly or the proposed UN sponsored meeting in Turkmenistan or other suggestions from opposition groups for meetings in Kabul itself between the government and the opposition. Karzai apparently fears that any such meetings will result in sidelining him.
This point was driven home to Pakistani dignitaries who during visits to Kabul reached out to the opposition and were told at first hand that these groups felt excluded from the reconciliation process when their participation was essential if the peace process was to be sustained. In essence Pakistan’s proposal flowed from what its officials had learnt from opposition leaders. It would seem to be right that if Pakistan had the key role in reconciliation assigned to it by the roadmap proposed by the Afghan High Peace Council, their suggestion had to be read as helpful rather than as interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
On the issue of the Strategic Partnership Agreement there appear to be very different perspectives in Kabul and Islamabad. It seems that Pakistan did propose a draft of such an agreement to Karzai but at Chequers, the Pakistanis say it was the Afghans who said that this agreement should be signed. The value of such an agreement is to say the least doubtful in any case. The only issue from Pakistan’s point of view, it seems to me is that it would be anomalous if Afghanistan concluded such agreements with India and NATO countries but did not do so with its most important neighbour.
Perhaps the most dangerous development has been the sudden and unexpected Afghan allegation that Pakistan was constructing a gate along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which was in Afghan territory in the Goshta district of Nangarhar province. The charge was then enlarged to say that there were another 11 check-posts, which were built by the Americans on Afghan territory and then occupied by the Pakistanis once the Americans withdrew. From Pakistan’s perspective the area where the gate was being constructed along with the other 11 checkpoint were all on Pakistan’s side of the Durand Line and had been built by Pakistan for better border control in 2003. The new gate that was being constructed had been the venue earlier in the year for a meeting of Afghan and Pakistani military delegations and no protest had been lodged at that time.
Tempers flared and even though Pakistan agreed, as a gesture of good will, to dismantle the new gate exchange of fire took place as Afghan forces, following Karzai’s orders tried to demolish the check-posts. In the cross fire an Afghan security official was killed and quickly made into a martyr. A flood of anti-Pakistan rhetoric followed making normal diplomatic exchanges difficult. In private conversations Afghan officials conceded that the check-posts had been in existence since 2003 but pleaded that at that time Afghanistan was unaware of the correct position.
To add fuel to the fire Karzai then went on to say that by constructing these check-posts Pakistan was trying to get the Afghans to accept the Durand Line as the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and vowed that Afghanistan would never do so. The fact was that Pakistan, which regards the Durand Line as a settled issue had never mentioned during this time Afghan acceptance of the Durand Line. In fact Karzai’s own complaint was based on the fact that according to the maps that the Afghans were using Pakistan had built its check-posts on the Afghan side of the Durand Line.
The situation on the border appears to have quietened down but the war of words continues. There are now charges that in aid of the announced Taliban offensive Madrasahs in Pakistan have been closed and the students there are entering Afghanistan to assist the Taliban. This is in addition to the charge that Pakistan has been firing artillery in Kunar and Nuristan without mentioning that these are the provinces into which the Pakistani Tehrik-e-Taliban has established bases from which they conduct raids into Pakistan.
It can be said that Karzai’s ire was prompted, at least in part, by charges levelled by Pakistani officials in an interview to Reuter in which Karzai was branded as the «main impediment to the peace process». He, it was said, was trying to act as a «saviour» and in so doing was taking «Afghanistan straight to Hell». Pakistan’s frustration was understandable but the use of such undiplomatic language certainly provided fresh fuel for Karzai’s anti-Pakistan diatribes and may thus have slowed the peace process that Pakistan was seeking to hasten. Another view however is that no matter what Pakistan did or said Karzai was intent on using the anti-Pakistan card to highlight his nationalist credentials (about which more later).
Pakistan is not the only target of Karzai’s efforts. His principal beneficiary has also been targeted though not with the same venom as had been aimed at Pakistan. This and Karzai’s efforts to project himself as a true Afghan nationalist will be the subject of my next article.
(To be concluded)