Afghan peace deal

…US indulging in double speak

Dr. Javid Iqbal
Srinagar, Publish Date: Dec 11 2018 10:43PM | Updated Date: Dec 11 2018 10:43PM
Afghan peace dealFile Photo

United States while talking of Afghan peace deal continues to indulge in double speak. Zalmy Khalilzad—Afghan American diplomat has been re-engaged by US establishment to negotiate the peace deal. In his previous assignment as US ambassador in Afghanistan during Bush administration, he had a role in re-managing the country and supervising post-Taliban election. Khalilzad carried a negative impression of what Pakistan is up to in Afghanistan. However, in his new assignment as President Trump's special adviser to Afghanistan, his job will be to try to bring the Afghan government and the Taliban to reconciliation. And, that involves Pakistan. He has already been there engaging the new Pakistani leadership in peace parleys. Among others he met Imran Khan in the midst of a letter to him from President Trump.

Trump has been calling Pakistan all sorts of names in his statements and tweets. He has charged Pakistan with deceit, swindling US funds, while doing nothing in return. However, in a volte-face, he has written to Imran, asking for assistance in resolving the Afghan tangle. Pakistan is thought to be not forthcoming to the extent she can.  Gen McKenzie, the next chief of the US Central Command (Centcom) said as much in a written response to the US Senate Armed Services Committee after his confirmation hearing last week. He noted “At this time, Pakistan does not appear to be using the full extent of its influence to encourage the Taliban to come to the table.” It is obvious that Zalmy Khalilzad is assigned to ensure Pakistan’s cooperation. It is said that Pakistan is concerned about India’s growing influence in Afghanistan and what the US could do to allay those concerns. 

India is central to US strategy in South Asian as well as in Asia Pacific. President Trump did not hold words in expressing the role US wants India to play while flagging his South Asian policy in August 2017.  Highlighting Indian role, Trump had a terse message for Pakistan. It caused ripples in Pakistan. Subsequently Indo-US relationship has deepened. Beyond South Asia, in Asia Pacific India is very much in loop, as the quad of US, Japan, India and Australia suggested. It might be stressed however that the quad is far from being formalized, as the states involved have differing priorities. China could take it as an affront, a prospect India and Japan are weighing with concern. India might not be like to cross paths, given the widening trade with China, as well as concerns over Indo-China border. US is doing its best to enlist Indian support in global strategy, in spite of the negative impact in Pakistan. Nevertheless lately Pakistan is creeping back into US plans, as Afghan imbroglio deepens with Af-Taliban gaining ground.  

Af-Taliban is believed to control more or less 60 percent of Afghan territory. US recognizes that Afghan push continues to gain more and more territory. However, despite willingness to talk and engage Taliban, US is far from calling it quits.  US military chief-- General Joseph Dunford has recommended maintaining US military presence in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to stabilise the war-torn country. Dunford’s recommendation stays at cross-purposes with what Af-Taliban demand. Foreign troops should vacate Afghanistan, remains the key demand of Af-Taliban. The positions of contending parties seem to be wide apart. Does it leave any chance for the peace or not is debatable, given the fact that Gen Dunford feels that with¬drawing US troops from Afghanistan would create instability in South Asia and give terrorists the space to plan another attack on the American people. There are other elements in the picture. Russia, far from taking Af-Taliban to be a terrorist combine provides them the status of a nationalist political grouping. Russians recently hosted a peace conference with Af-Taliban presence. India participated at a non-official level with retired diplomats staying as observers, without active participation. Like Russia, Iran has established a line of contact with Af-Taliban. Russians and Iranians are wary of presence of ISIS in Afghanistan. As neighbours, they consider it to be threat, providing the reason for cultivating Af-Taliban.  

US negotiating stance is apparent, accommodating Af-Taliban within the power structure it has weaved in Afghanistan, while its continued presence in Afghanistan is ensured. With this aim in end, a renewed strategy of reaching out to Pakistan seems to have been worked out. There is a greater willingness to accommodate Pakistan’s concerns. Gen McKenzie in congressional hearing said that, he “will make Pakistan a priority engagement.’’ The engagement is meant to wean Pakistan away from using Af-Taliban to further its perceived interests. “We continue to see the Taliban being utilised as a hedge against India rather than as part of a stable, reconciled Afghanistan,” added Gen McKenzie, while acknowledging that Pakistan “has national interests it wants addressed in any future political settlement in the region, including a politically stable Afghanistan.’’ Under Gen McKenzie’s command, US Centcom has a tough diplomatic assignment, which is designed to support efforts “towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Afghanistan which includes ensuring that Islamabad’s equities are acknowledged in any future agreement.’’

Addressing Pakistan’s concerns is not the endgame, whatever the plans of Gen McKenzie. Even if Pakistan is sufficiently mollified, will it motivate Af-Taliban to play ball? US military chief--General Joseph Dunford feels it could only be achieved by bringing sufficient political, social and military pressure on the insurgents to accept a negotiated settlement. The pressure hasn’t worked so far, will it work in future with dwindling US stakes is open to question? The road to peace in Afghanistan remains tough to traverse.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]  

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