The 11-minutes speech of President Karzai to the nation live on RTA last night was expected to announce a strategy or roadmap about the post-Rabbani peace, the strategic partnership with the US, or making a sense of his vague statements regarding direct talks with Pakistan, instead of Taliban. But he repeated the same rhetoric, which he has been saying after the assassination of Ustad Rabbani.
He called another Loya Jirga, to ‘decide’ about the US strategic partnership and fate of negotiations. Listing the recent deeds of the Taliban, whom he used to refer as his “angry brothers”, their serial assassination campaign, including the murder of his own brother, President Karzai said, “one-sided desire and efforts for peace will not bear a result and peace can only be made with those who believe in it.” So, after all these Jirgas, commissions and regional meetings, and to mention the joint commission with Pakistan, now we come to know that everything is in a dead end. However, there was a hint of what the new policy might look like. He said, “We have to fight with determination against those who do not believe in peace”. Though not making it clear what the framework of his “direct talks with Pakistan about Taliban” would be, President Karzai added, “Pakistan has not cooperated with us, which is unfortunate. We need to reconsider peace. In reality, we need to deal with governments, not with their proxy groups.” Clearly he was referring to Taliban’s Quetta Shura and Haqqani Network as proxies of Pakistan. And probably if there is any such direct talk with Pakistan about Taliban, Islamabad will certainly deny presence of the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan and that of the Quetta Shura in Balochistan.
Pakistan has been demanding a “role” in what they call the endgame in Afghanistan. And President Karzai’s “direct talk” is more of an offer, than a reaction for them. But it comes after the failures of joint Af-Pak commissions and exercises of Kabul-Islamabad visits in the past year. More importantly, Rawalpindi would not like to involve the US in such a “direct talks”, resultantly, rest assured not to expect anything positive out of it.
There are certain things that President Karzai should make clear with Pakistan. For now, there is no framework or a new strategy on how to proceed. When the Afghan-Pak Joint Peace Commission was established in April after the visit of Pakistani power trio—the Army Chief General Kayani, ISI Chief Shuja Pasha and Prime Minister Gilani—in Kabul, much hopes had been tied, by President Karzai and his advisors who are to be most blamed for a policy which has produced nothing in last six months, except the fact that we have lost many high-profile figures. It was President Karzai who had requested inclusion of military and intelligence officials of both countries in that Peace Commission, of which Ustad Rabbani was also a member. Now seeing the total failure of the Joint Peace Commission, that involved the military and intelligence of Pakistan, what could be a new strategy that President Karzai calls for direct talks with Pakistan, instead of the Taliban? Actually the Joint-Commission was a practice of the same.
Then and now, President Karzai thinks his efforts to persuade militants to denounce violence will only work if the military establishment of Pakistan supports it. It did not work during the last six months, and will most probably not work in future, because the perception of Pakistan’s military-intelligence about their “role” in Afghanistan is like a fifth province of their country.
Kabul says the Taliban leadership of Quetta Shura is hiding in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network has sanctuary in North Waziristan, and most suicide bombers come from that region. But Pakistan is not only in complete denial of these all, they also do not admit the fact that not only Haqqani Network, but terrorists with links from Xinjiang to Chechnya are in North Waziristan, and Pakistan Army has categorically denied any military operations there.
For his new policy of “direct talks with Pakistan instead of Taliban”, most importantly President Karzai needs to make nice with the US. The strategic partnership should be finalized as soon as possible. Calling a Loya Jirga is nothing, but a hurdle and waste of time to discuss the strategic partnership, or policy about Pakistan. There is the Wolesi Jirga and Senate, which must be prioritized for such national decisions.
The new policy should make certain things very clear; Pakistan should be urged to persuade the Haqqani elements and all other terrorists to leave North Waziristan or join negotiations with Kabul, otherwise Pakistan should launch military operations there. They must ask the Taliban leadership of Quetta Shura to either join a respectful peace process with Kabul, mediated by the help of ISI, or leave Pakistan.
Kabul can better deal and fight with determination if these elements have no safe havens in Pakistan. In return, Kabul and Islamabad should discuss the legitimate interests and demands of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have been talking about a post-US withdrawal Afghanistan. The US has more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and more than 50,000 will remain long beyond 2024, so Pakistan need not to make “strategic depth” plans about a complete US withdrawal.
Afghanistan and the US have similar concerns about Pakistan, and President Karzai’s administration, while in a cold war with Washington, cannot achieve any of the above. It is also important for the US to get serious with their so-called carrot and stick policy towards Pakistan. It has been just the carrot so far, with more than $20 billions of aid, mostly to military, but at the end, a threat from Pakistan that Washington might lose a so-called ally in the war on terror.
To add a note at the end of this column about the inquiry delegation of Rabbani’s assassination, led by Defense Minister Rahim Wardark, the inquiry committee is supposed to visit Islamabad soon, but it seems this will be just another visit, seeing the headlines in Pakistan press that “Pakistan’s Foreign Office laughs on Afghan evidence”. The delegation will achieve nothing by going to Pakistan.
Even if there is strong evidence to prove Quetta Shura and elements from within ISI are behind the assassination of Ustad Rabbani, there should be no expectation that Taliban leaders will be arrested. They can be moved from Quetta to Karachi, or some other place. However, President Karzai has said if Pakistan does not cooperate in the investigations, the case will be taken to the UN, which might produce some satisfactory results.