Hamid Karzai again upping the ante

afghan presidentBy Asif Haroon Raja

The US sole worry is to ensure safe and smooth withdrawal of US-NATO troops. At the same time it wishes to ensure peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan and to leave behind stable Afghanistan under a US friendly regime. Another aspect which is yet to be decided is the size of residuary force that will be left behind after 2014. Kabul government has yet not given blanket diplomatic immunity to the residuary force. Karzai’s growing disenchantment against his patron and the Taliban not wanting presence of foreign troops after 2014 are the two reasons behind this indecision. For peaceful transition, one of the foremost requirements for the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan is to sink all their differences and get on one page. The other is that the Taliban agree to open political office in Doha. Third is ceasefire and renewal of process of dialogue disrupted in March 2012 so that mutually acceptable settlement can be reached.

The ground situation is that the Taliban have still not given any indication to resume talks. None of the stakeholders and voluntary peacemakers has been able to convince the Taliban to open a political office in Doha. Taliban are continuing to attack foreign troops and Afghan national security forces (ANSF) and striking sensitive targets all over the country. Karzai is not happy with USA since it suspects that he is being ignored and Pakistan is trusted. Northern Alliance leaders see him with suspicion after he started making frantic efforts to woo Mullah Omar and his Shura members. The people of Afghanistan and Taliban rightly see him as an American tout.

The US too is not pleased with Karzai since he could neither bring any improvement in governance, nor in controlling corruption or in cultivating Taliban. Continuing civilian casualties as a result of drone and air attacks and night raids by NATO troops makes him more unpopular. In his futile bid to become popular, he often loses temper and in frustration directs US military commander to speed up handing over of security duties and the charge of Bagram prison to ANA. In return he earns the displeasure of Washington.

The ISAF has become nervous and self-protective after growing incidents of green-over-blue attacks by ANSF. Karzai lays the blame on Pakistan for all his woes. The wisest of all India finds itself utterly out of job in the endgame and can do little to lessen the pains of USA. While Pak-US relations that had hit rock bottom are gradually improving, Pak-Afghan and Pak-India relations are getting strained. Much that it wanted to, the US is no more in a position to negotiate from position of strength.

Since all the stakeholders are unable to help the US, Pakistan’s assistance has become imperative. The US no more relies on Kabul or New Delhi’s counsels but has started to lean heavily on Pakistan military to show a way out. The bottom line is that it is only Pakistan which is capable of rendering help to facilitate the movement of the Taliban representatives to meet the Afghan government officials in Saudi Arabia and to sit down with the American diplomats in Qatar in the coming weeks and months. Pakistan is judged as the only country that can help in brokering a peace deal and in ensuring safe exit of ISAF troops and heavy baggage. The US knows that the ISI has established good contacts with both Pashtun and non-Pashtun Afghan camps and hence has an edge over others.

Brussels meeting attended by President Karzai, Gen Kayani and Pakistan’s Secretary Jalil Abbas was organized by US Secretary of State John Kerry last month to remove lingering misgivings between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The meeting however couldn’t produce anything fruitful because of non-cooperative attitude of Karzai. Although Karzai is no more in good books of Washington, it cannot find his suitable replacement in this critical timeframe wherein nothing is going in favor of USA and has therefore to reluctantly carry this baggage for some more time.

The peace process roadmap proposed a “five phased process”. The first phase which started in March 2012 and ended in September last focused on securing partnership of Pakistan and forming a core team of Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and UK to woo Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table. Not much has been achieved. The second phase from September to March 2013 was to be utilized on CBMs to offer incentives to Taliban and induce them to hold formal negotiations with Karzai government in Riyadh. No progress could be made. The third phase during second half of 2013 is aimed at securing ceasefire. Fourth phase in the first half of 2014 envisage consolidation of agreements reached, whereupon Pakistan is to “monitor and prevent” any breach of the agreements. Phase five visualizes participation of regional and international community to endow with “long-term security” of Afghanistan. The underlying idea of the plan seems to be to sanctify the long-term US military presence in Afghanistan.

While the Taliban may agree to break off ties with al-Qaeda and not allow foreign non-state actors to misuse Afghan soil against others, they will neither agree to accept US formulated constitution nor prolonged stay of residuary force. They would prefer to negotiate with USA than with Afghan regime principally responsible for the bloodbath of Pashtuns and destruction of Afghanistan. The US may agree to move out lock stock and barrel if a face saving settlement is reached, otherwise it will be forced by circumstances to leave behind 10,000 to 12000 residual forces till Afghanistan becomes stable.

Finding that the course of events have started to favor Pakistan, India governed by its Kautiliyan instincts gave few lessons to Kabul to put Pakistan on the defensive and that too at a time when it was fully engrossed in general elections. On 31 April 2013, Afghan policemen trashed and manhandled Pak Khassadar persons on duty at Torkham border and in protest Pakistan closed the border. After receiving apology from Kabul, the border was reopened on 01 May. On May 2, two Pak soldiers were injured when their Gursal post located in Mehmand Agency came under unprovoked fire from across the border. When protest was launched, Kabul countered by laying the blame on Pakistan. Afghan troops once again started firing on Gursal post on May 6 in which six Frontier Constabulary soldiers got injured. Kabul justified the act by claiming that the post constructed by Pak military in 2002 was theirs. Border was purposefully heated up to tense the atmosphere. Instead of steadying relations, Kabul further strained Afghan-Pakistan relations by making false allegations that Pak troops had crossed into Afghan territory and established a post at Ghoshta district in Nangahar area.

Karzai upped the ante by touching upon the settled and dead issue by stating that Durand Line needed to be redrawn. He spoke the Indian language of expansionism. He then urged the Taliban to stop attacking Afghan targets and to turn their weapons against Pakistan. He also stated that Pakistan is the root cause of instability in Afghanistan. These hostile acts and irresponsible statements occurred at this delicate stage when all out combined efforts should have been focused on working together in a spirit of cooperation to culminate the 13 year war and to make the region peaceful. It gives an insight to what is cooking in Kabul against Pakistan and who is tutoring Karzai. Karzai’s acknowledged that he has been receiving secret funds from CIA. It is quite understood that these funds were used and are still being used to pay terrorists and to employ them for covert war against Pakistan. Fazlullah group based in safe haven of Kunar is funded to carryout terrorism in Pakistan. Intelligence reports had indicated arrival of TTP Commanders Maulvi Tayyab and Mauvi Tariq along with 30-40 suicide bombers at Khara near Kunar with the intention of attacking security forces deployed in Upper and Lower Dir to sabotage elections scheduled on May 11.

The writer is a retired Brig and a defence and security analyst. Email:asifharoonraja@gmail.com

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