By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
Tripartite talks between Pakistan, US and Afghanistan, regarding the security and stability in Afghanistan, were primarily scheduled to be held in Washington, from 23-25 February, 2011. However, owing to the arrest of a US national Raymond Davis, who killed two Pakistani nationals, US decided not to invite Pakistan in the talks. Nevertheless, there are many underlying causes for avoiding Pakistani presence in the talks at this critical juncture of Afghanistan. These reasons have a linkage with the US future strategy in Afghanistan, in dealing with the Karazai administration as well as the Taliban and other warlords. Finally the talks were held between US and Afghanistan. However, despite absence of Pakistan from the talks, Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak declared that, Pakistan and Afghanistan have better prospects for cooperation and referring his earlier meeting with Pakistani Army Chief, remarked that, “We are really hopeful for very good relations between our governments.”
Since the central agenda of the talks was the security in Afghanistan, therefore, an assessment of the situation would reveal that, over all, there has been deterioration in the security and stability in Afghanistan. This was amply highlighted by the outgoing UN special representative, Robert Watkins, who recently stated that; “security is the worst in a decade and the world body is virtually shut out of two-fifths of the country.” In the meanwhile, U.S has started withdrawing its troops from Pech Valley in Kunar province, to allow troops of Afghan National Army (ANA) to take over the responsibilities there, on trial basis. However, it seems difficult for the ANA to sustain the onslaught of the Taliban. Occupation of this Valley was once the dream of the US and its 103 soldiers lost their lives in the struggle to capture it and later to keep it under its occupation.
While welcoming the Afghan delegation, US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, hoped that, “this would be the first of regular meetings to sustain a long-term military to military relationship” between Afghanistan and US. However, analysts feel that, any negotiations with respect to peace in Afghanistan without involving Pakistan are just like, “playing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.” On a very individual incident, US should not have shelved the tripartite talks and instead undertaken the bilateral talks while relegating Pakistan. By doing so, it appeared as US is playing a double game in Afghanistan, which would be very dangerous for itself, until its complete drawdown in 2014, if at all, it is serious about that. On one side, its military head, Admiral Mike Mullen along with General Petraeus had a meeting with Pakistani Army Chief in Muscat, exploring “new ways to better coordinate military operations”. On the other hand, it has tried to isolate Pakistan, for not bowing to its demands in the case of Raymond Davis.
Apart from this, the New Yorker magazine has recently disclosed that the United States is once again making direct contacts with the Afghan Taliban. As per Steve Coll, the writer and analyst of the New American Foundation, Washington, these talks are still in the exploratory stage, aiming to assess, as the real leadership of Taliban. Since 2008, the US made several attempts to persuade the Taliban to become a part of the Afghan government. In this regard, the US even divided them into good and the bad Taliban. Perhaps, the good were those Taliban who would have reconciled with US stay in Afghanistan, and bad ones were those who are fighting against the foreign occupation of their country by the US and NATO.
Now with the aim of winning the hearts and minds of Taliban, US is encouraging the Afghan Peace Council to send its delegation to Guantanamo Bay for working out some modalities of the release of the arrested Taliban? U.S sees this forward move in integrating the Taliban in the Afghan main stream. Steve Coll of the New American Foundation, Washington, while giving out the mindset of the Americans clearly says that, there is a commonality between US and Taliban regarding the future Pakistani role. Both desire that, Pakistan and its intelligence agencies should have no role in the political engagement between US and the Taliban.
On its part, Pakistan never pursued any role for its intelligence agencies or Government in Afghanistan. Pakistan only desire peace and stability in Afghanistan, as it feels that stability in Pakistan is directly linked with the stability in Afghanistan. Throughout the period of US invasion, Pakistan has been emphasizing it to negotiate with the Taliban and other warlords, controlling over 70 percent territory of Afghanistan. How far the US can go ahead with its agenda of the talks would be decided on the ground realities. The fact of the matter is that rather than getting local support, the US popularity graph in Afghanistan has drastically decreased in last two years. Resultantly, there has been an increase in the area of the influence of the Taliban and warlords.
Today, Taliban are hell bent on one pre-condition that, before any negotiations, NATO and US forces must pull out from the Afghan soil. However, the US strategy has been of the carrot and the stick. There have been occasions where Pakistan really assisted the United States, for getting into successful negotiations with the Taliban. However, in the realm of power politics, US perhaps thought that it can subdue the valiant sons of Afghanistan through the use of force. Even after fully recognising the need of negotiations, it used the force, just to give an impression that the US would negotiate from the stand point of domination, rather playing on the level field.
In the current attempt, if at all the US is serious in the dialogue process with the Taliban, than, it should not discriminate between the good and bad Taliban nor the hardliners and moderates. Taliban in Afghanistan is a reality to be reckoned with. Moreover, the US would have to abandon the military operations, which so far have resulted into enormous losses of innocent lives in Afghanistan. Another factor which the US needs to take into consideration is the ever increasing Indian role in Afghanistan. Majority of the Afghans have lot of reservations about the real agenda of India in this country of traditions and religious minded people.
As regards Pak-US relationship, the super power must understand that, “To sustain a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship, both sides need to resolve if not ignore passing irritants instead of allowing them to sour their relationship.” Tension over the Raymond Davis, should not have been the sole cause for not inviting Pakistan for this tripartite talks. Exclusion of Pakistan from these talks has taken place at a time, once US has started talks with the Taliban and gave indications for the likely release of some Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay. US, perhaps never wanted any Pakistani role in this entire episode. On its part, Pakistan feels that, there is an immediate need of peace and stability in Afghanistan through negotiations. In all eventualities, peace and the stability in Afghanistan cannot be attained “without a goal-oriented unity of purpose between the four parties concerned; the Washington, Kabul, Islamabad and the Taliban leadership.”