A difficult path to peace – Raoof Hasan

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Things along our eastern front may appear to be stable, but the same cannot be said of the situation brewing along the western border.

Two recent interviews and a speech illustrate in small measure the enormity of bitterness that the two countries are gripped with in their bid to live as peaceful neighbours. The severity of the situation is likely to aggravate further in the wake of continuing US withdrawal from Afghanistan which is scheduled to be completed by September 11 later this year.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who is construed by many as a major impediment in the way of peace in Afghanistan, accused Pakistan of operating an organised system of support for the Taliban: “The Taliban receive logistics there, their finances are there and recruitment is there. Various decision-making bodies of the Taliban are named after their cities where they are located. There is a deep relationship with the state”. When asked about the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban, he said that “the question of peace and hostility is now in Pakistani hands”.

This was followed a few days later by a talk by former Afghan president Hamid Karzai with the same publication. The centrepiece of his interaction was that both the Afghan Republic and the Taliban are victims of external forces, which is why Afghanistan has been suffering. He accused Pakistan of “organising the attacks which were carried out by the Taliban in Afghanistan”. He also said that the US conceded that violence was coming from Pakistan, but added that “it supported both sides of the conflict at the same time. It dropped bombs on Afghan villages in order to fight the Taliban and also funded the very country accused of organising Taliban terror campaigns”. He welcomed the prospect of a Bilateral Security Agreement being pushed by the British, but conditioned it on “the attainment of peace in Afghanistan, elimination of trust deficit and Pakistan showing itself as a good neighbour”.

But the worst was yet to come. Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib, in a vituperative outburst, accused Pakistan of being engaged in an effort to expand its borders. During his abusive outburst, he also debased all norms of inter-state communication. It was only appropriate that a strong protest was lodged by the government of Pakistan with the Afghan authorities. Understandably, it has also been made clear that, henceforth, Pakistan would not engage with the Afghan NSA. Let’s not forget that he was also deported from the US some time back.

I think that, in our eagerness to cope with the post-withdrawal situation by incentivising the prospect of peace, we have become unmindful of the bitterness that a beneficiary group in Afghanistan is straddled with. They are afraid that in a multi-party setup, their hold on power would be automatically weakened. It could also be that, over time, they cede it altogether to the growing influence of the Taliban. So the resurgent theme of Pakistan being responsible for the aggravating situation in Afghanistan is being trumpeted with enhanced frequency and added toxicity, bordering on a deeply-rooted hatred of what the country stands for. It may actually be time now to initiate a comprehensive review of the situation.

Let’s not forget that there is nothing new in the Afghan policy of bashing Pakistan for every debacle that befalls them. It is deeply ingrained into their psyche for as long as the two countries have been neighbours. Notwithstanding this, as well as a host of other uncharitable remarks which keep surfacing from time to time, I am personally of the view that Pakistan has gone way beyond the domain of its responsibility in helping out to make the prospect of peace in Afghanistan a reality. In this effort, it has exerted its influence on the Taliban and convinced them of the need for a negotiated settlement. Let’s not understate the importance of the task. Making the Taliban agree to talk for peace when they believe that they are on the verge of complete victory in Afghanistan has been a Herculean undertaking. Yet the Afghans feel no constraint in unleashing this new wave of assaulting Pakistan for Afghanistan’s woes.

As things continue to unfold, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Taliban are close to being the most important stakeholder in any coalition government when it takes shape in the aftermath of the withdrawal of foreign troops. In fact, they would constitute the dominant factor and the success of the arrangement that is put in place would also depend on them. Understandably, this is not acceptable to the status-quo interests in Kabul who would hate to see their influence diminish. So, there is a well-orchestrated effort on their part of letting the country lapse into civil war in preference to seeing it slip into the hands of the Taliban. To them, peace is like an apparition: they see it, yet they don’t see it.

No matter how hard Pakistan tries for peace in Afghanistan, its ultimate realisation would depend on Afghan stakeholders. If they don’t agree to a peace plan alongside the Taliban, the chances of the latter going for a complete takeover become even more obvious. While peace is desirable for all countries, it is the Afghans who would suffer the most if it is not secured at this juncture.

Pakistan will be a victim of collateral damage that would accompany the unleashing of violence in Afghanistan. Sanity and good sense demand that this must be averted through a cooperative approach by all stakeholders, both within Afghanistan and those trying to extend a helping hand. Hurling of distasteful invectives is no way to move forward.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute. Twitter: @RaoofHasan