There are serious disconnects among the key players. As
if the disconnect between Pakistan and the US were not enough, the fresh
disconnect between Pakistan and Afghanistan after the tragic murder of Prof
Burhanuddin Rabbani has further complicated the situation.

The future of the high-level joint Pakistan-Afghanistan peace commission is
in question. Afghans are convening a new peace jirga on Nov 16. What does it
mean? It clearly implies that the course charted by the previous Loya Jirga
leading to the emergence of the grand peace council aimed at reconciliation
in Afghanistan has come to a dead end.

Senator Afrasiab Khattak

While a horrifying military conflict is continuously raging in Afghanistan
there seems to be a complete stalemate on the political front. As 2014 is
drawing closer there is little hope for any breakthrough in terms of some
consensus among the most important players who are egoistically clinging to
their positions on post-withdrawal arrangements.

Zero-sum games are being played out at the cost of Afghan blood. There seems to
be no willingness for striking compromises for the sake of peace and for the
sake of the Afghan people who have faced war ravages for more than three decades
for no fault of theirs.

There are serious disconnects among the key players. As if the disconnect
between Pakistan and the US were not enough, the fresh disconnect between
Pakistan and Afghanistan after the tragic murder of Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani has
further complicated the situation.

The future of the high-level joint Pakistan-Afghanistan peace commission is in
question. Afghans are convening a new peace jirga on Nov 16. What does it mean?
It clearly implies that the course charted by the previous Loya Jirga leading to
the emergence of the grand peace council aimed at reconciliation in Afghanistan
has come to a dead end.

President Hamid Karzai in a recent interview categorically stated that his
government cannot talk to an adversary whose only address is that of a suicide
bomber’s. Therefore,
Afghanistan needs to rethink the entire situation.

Before one dwells upon a possible fresh course adopted by the Afghan government
and its implications, it would be useful to refer to some lessons of the
situation after the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989. At that
time, too, the main focus was on the withdrawal of foreign forces, and little
attention was paid to post-withdrawal processes in Afghanistan.

No effort was made to create a consensus on a transitional government before the
withdrawal. Even afterwards, the pleas of the then Afghan president Dr
Najibullah for negotiation on transition were ignored. Consequently, a ferocious
civil war followed the Soviet withdrawal, not only destroying the urban centres
of the country but also turning Afghanistan into a hub of international
terrorism. If the post-Soviet withdrawal experience of Afghanistan is anything
to go by it is quite clear that an exclusive approach in or around Afghanistan
will never lead to a sustainable solution.

To ensure a rational inclusion of all important players for finding a
sustainable solution in post-withdrawal Afghanistan the creation of a credible
international mechanism for drawing three circles of negotiations and ensuring
simultaneous development in all three is proposed.

The first circle should be that of an intra-Afghan dialogue. In recent times,
outsiders have exaggeratedly focused on the vengeful tribal mindset. Yes, the
tribal mindset is vengeful but it is equally pragmatic if allowed to work on its
own. The experience of the 1990s is convincing evidence that almost every Afghan
group did talk to and
compromised with every other Afghan group. Such understandings were disrupted
due to foreign interference and this brings us to the second circle.

The second circle should be that of negotiations among regional players of the
Afghan scene. Let us not forget that Afghanistan has its south, east, north and
west. Afghanistan has important neighbours in all these directions with common
ethnicities. No neighbour can be excluded from a consensus on the possible
future arrangements in and around Afghanistan. Any effort by any one of the
neighbours aimed at a monopolising influence on post-withdrawal Afghanistan can
bring back the proxy wars of 1990s. Let us not forget that the glue that holds
Afghanistan together is getting thinner and thinner.

Finally, there should be a third circle of negotiations aimed at creating
international convergence. It is important for three reasons. First, there are
international players actively involved in the Afghan conflict and they will
have to be part of the negotiations for finding solutions. Second, Afghanistan
will require large-scale assistance for reconstruction, and it will not be
possible to find resources without the participation of the international
community in the peace process. Third, the presence of international powers in
the process will, to a certain extent, defuse the chronic regional rivalries
with the potential to create serious complications.

It is worth mentioning that simultaneity of the progress in all three circles is
a must. Without this, one circle will have the capacity to hit and subvert the
process. That is exactly what happened during and after the withdrawal of the
Soviet forces. Simultaneous progression steered by a neutral international
mechanism in all three circles can prevent the repetition of the 1990s’ fatal
mistakes.

Policymakers in Pakistan must realise that they cannot support Afghanistan by
befriending a single group. We should be open to friendship with the entire
Afghan nation. We should have a benign policy modelled after China’s. Secondly,
we also need to focus on the political and economic aspects of our relationship
with Afghanistan, instead of getting bogged down in the Cold War-like fixation
with the geo-strategic.

We can have a special relationship with Afghanistan only when the Afghan people
are convinced about its justification. It cannot be imposed on them. The
government of Pakistan needs to take fresh and effective initiative to defuse
the current tension between the two countries immediately before the Afghanistan
Loya Jirga binds the government of that country by taking a tough stand.

The writer is a member of the Senate and ANP provincial president in Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa. The article is originally published in today’s Daily Dawn