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Karzai and the lost war

A lot has been said and written in the media in Pakistan about the recent visit of President Karzai to Islamabad. Efforts were made to pin responsibility for its failure on to him for the simple reason that Islamabad declined to agree to nudge the Taliban to talk to his government or release Taliban prisoners, including Mullah Adbul Ghani Barader.

This is not a fair and reasonable assessment. The visit was not Karzai’s own initiative, rather he was invited by the prime minister of Pakistan who had dangled vague promises of a solution to the impasse. Therefore, shifting the burden of responsibility from Nawaz Sharif to Karzai is completely unfair.

Under the circumstances that beset Afghanistan now – and also our border areas – such an invitation for talks is taken as an indication of a serious initiative with something positive in store for serious and meaningful discussions. If that was not the case then why did Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invite President Karzai to Islamabad to begin with?

Let us be fair and call a spade a spade. The key to the success or failure of the visit was with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and not President Karzai. However, if the visit was meant only to be used as yet another gimmick, after the election campaign for changing our Afghan policy, that is an altogether different matter.

The war in Afghanistan has just started to come to an end and the US forces are headed home via Torkham without having secured an agreed political dispensation for Afghanistan after 2014. Efforts made so far in this regard have yielded no positive results. And the widely publicised Doha process crash-landed even before taking off.

While the US tried its level best to get President Karzai to sign the strategic agreement so that it could leave residuary power behind for security and other reasons, the Afghan president seems to be reluctant to oblige. He is reported to have said that he was not in a hurry to conclude the agreement and would be happy if someone else signed it even after April 2014.

Karzai has been termed by the western media as the most difficult person amongst the allies to deal with. This waning of trust between him and the west has given rise to speculation that the strategic agreement may never be signed. And without that the US will not leave residuary power behind and may be forced to opt for the ‘zero option’ – ie pulling all its forces out of Afghanistan.

President Karzai’s interests converged with those of the US till this point and he used that cleverly to further his personal agenda. Carrying forward the US agenda when its forces are leaving Afghanistan does not fall in line with his own interest of carving a place for himself in his country’s history as a nationalist leader.

It is generally believed that after stepping down (if he does so) he will stay in the country as an ordinary citizen. In that case it is very unlikely that he will do anything that hurts the feelings of his fellow Afghans or offend Afghan nationalism. He would prefer doing something that portrays him as a nationalist leader and that opportunity has presented itself in the shape of refusal to sign the strategic agreement.

Another important factor that should be kept in mind while dealing with the situation in Afghanistan is the coming to an end of Karzai’s second term as president. The million dollar question is whether he will relinquish the presidency in April 2014 or hang on to the position like the late Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani who resisted all calls for stepping down and carried the position with him to Dushanbe when he was driven out of Afghanistan by the Taliban in the late 1990s. Prof Rabbani claimed he did that in the best interest of his people and President Karzai may also opt to do the same in the ‘best interests’ of his people. A lot depends on the situation prevailing at that time.

The Taliban, on the other hand, have proved their mettle by fighting successfully for 13 long years against the sole superpower of the world. Their resilience and will to fight till victory have established that they are a power to be reckoned with. They have proved that without their participation peace in Afghanistan will remain an illusion and the people of Afghanistan – as well as its neighbours – will continue to suffer.

It is thus in the best interest of all for us to join hands and find a way to bring the two warring factions (Taliban and the Karzai government) together to the negotiating table for a lasting solution. Only they can make Afghanistan safe by agreeing to a future dispensation to run the country post-2014. In case of disagreement the worst will follow where no one including their neighbours will feel safe and secure.

No one knows what Karzai will do to survive in the worst case scenario once foreign forces leave the country. Many believe he will not survive even a day. But will he be alone to face the situation like some leaders in Afghanistan’s bloody past or will some friends come around to help?

Let us not underestimate his abilities; he is a shrewd politician having already signed strategic agreements with India and Iran, the two countries that staunchly supported the Northern Alliance in its earlier fight against the Taliban. In a similar situation they will actively support the government in Kabul and the two agreements wherein they have to provide help and assistance to the defence forces of Afghanistan. The Russians and the Central Asian Republics will follow suit in covert operations.

The UN will continue maintaining to recognise Karzai’s government like it did when Prof Rabbani was ousted from Kabul by the Taliban. In other words, the situation in Afghanistan will go back to square one – only with the players in changed positions.

Will Pakistan prefer to stay in the same position it was in when it stood by the side of the Taliban? If yes it will be as lonely as it was then. If not it will amount to annoying the Taliban or in other words asking for trouble. In both cases the options are not pleasant for Pakistan. The best choice would be to work seriously on a plan whereby the Taliban and the Afghan government agree on a future government in which both antagonists participate. A government by one leaving the other out is neither likely to be acceptable to all Afghans nor practicable as the side left out will not allow peace to return to the country.

By playing an active part in of the process of forming a government of the two (Taliban and the Afghan government) Pakistan will have a friendly Afghanistan which will serve its interests far better than just a friendly government in Kabul alone.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has not yet played the role he had promised before and after elections to take steps to put our Afghan policy on the right track in accordance with public expectations.

On the contrary by asking for consensus of political parties first he appears to be reluctant to take a clear-cut decision on this issue. One fails to understand why he is going through the motions of this exercise when through the heavy vote of the electorate he has already been given a go-ahead by the public to tackle militancy.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: waziruk@hotmail.com

Ayaz Wazir, "Karzai and the lost war," The News. 2013-09-09.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political process , Government-Afghanistan , International issues , Media-Pakistan , Armed forces , Taliban , President Karzai , Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani , PM Nawaz Sharif , Mullah Adbul , Pakistan , Islamabad , Afghanistan , United States