Pakistan being misunderstood


Beenish Javed (a TV Reporter) & Nasir Ahmad Waqif, (an Afghan Journalist)

It is encouraging to note that the saner voices in Afghanistan do recognize the efforts being made by Pakistan as sincere and towards making a long-term peace paradigm in the region. A senior official of Pakistan foreign office said that Pakistan was willing to facilitate peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan, but waiting for Afghanistan and Qatar to clear the way for the talks and that the Afghan and Qatari officials were working on setting up a Taliban office in Doha as well as finalizing the rules for the talks these days.

Kabul is urging Islamabad since a long time to put pressure on Taliban to force them to come to the negotiating table. “Afghanistan expects serious and timely steps from Pakistan to facilitate the reconciliation process with the Taliban”, said the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, Muhammad Umar Doudzai. “We have no doubt that Pakistan is seriously interested in seeing a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, but we are still waiting to see results of Pakistan’s efforts.” Since two years various governments are trying to push the Taliban to agree to peace talks, but no significant results have been achieved so far.

Pakistani diplomats reject the often heard accusation from Afghan politicians that Islamabad is responsible for the slow pace of peace talks. The foreign ministry official points out that Pakistan is not a main party in this process, and thus it can only play the role of a facilitator. “The last core group meeting two months ago between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US was significant in this regard”, he added. The core group decided to provide safe passage to all Taliban, who want to negotiate. Their names would be removed from the UN sanction list in case they travel to a third country.

The foreign ministry official confirms the frequent assertions by the Pakistani government that the country does not want a destabilized Afghanistan, after the foreign troops leave the country at the end of 2014. Therefore Pakistan would support all peace talks whether they are in Qatar or Saudi Arabia – with one condition: “They must be led by Afghanistan.”

Afghan political analyst, Ahmad Saeed, blames Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for not putting enough pressure on Taliban. Saeed, a former Afghan diplomat to Pakistan said, “Regional peace and stability is only possible when Pakistan’s intelligence agencies put pressure on Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table”. Pakistan is often blamed for killing militants, who are willing to negotiate with the government of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Gen (retd) Talat Masood, a leading defense analyst, said that there might be some elements in the military establishment and government in Pakistan, who oppose the reconciliation process. But overall, “there is a clear consensus among Pakistan’s government and military, that Pakistan is interested in a peaceful Afghanistan and more so in a peaceful Afghanistan which would lead to a prosperous Pakistan”.

Another issue that strains the relationship between the two neighboring countries is cross border terrorism. Ambassador Doudzai is getting impatient with Pakistan’s perceived inactivity on the issue “Pakistan can do much to control terrorism.” However, Pakistan claims that it is challenging to control cross-border attacks. The militants have sanctuaries on each side of the border, Pakistani officials point out; on both sides they are not being nurtured by the governments, thereby refusing to accept any blame put on them from Kabul. The recent attacks in Pakistan by militants from Afghanistan entering into Dir have proved that serious problem lies at both sides of the border.

Political stability in Afghanistan is an important factor for security and economic development in Pakistan. If instability in Afghanistan prevails, “it will trickle down to Pakistan and a government in Kabul ruled by Taliban would influence extremist elements in the tribal belt”, the foreign ministry official fears: “This can create a huge problem for Pakistan”. A stabilized Afghanistan on the other hand would give Pakistan access to Central Asian markets. Projects like TAPI gas pipeline to transport Tajik gas through Afghanistan and Pakistan up to India or CASA 1000, which will urgently fulfill energy needs of Pakistan, are depending on Afghan stability.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Ayaz Wazir, presents a solution to the current problem. He believes that Afghanistan’s neighbors, Pakistan and Iran, have great influence in Afghanistan, and together with the US, if these three countries compromise a bit on their interests, can come up with a sincere plan for Afghanistan. This will ultimately lead to a successful reconciliation process with the Taliban, he believes, and reduce the cross border tensions.

Meanwhile for the second time in less than a week, Isaf Commander John Allen landed in Pakistan to help break the impasse on restoration of Nato supplies. The two sides had finally reached at an agreement.Sources informed The Nation that Gen Allen landed at the Chaklala Airbase and drove straight to General Headquarters (GHQs) in Rawalpindi where he had a brief meeting with Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and then he moved to US Embassy in Islamabad.Later at night, the commander of International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), along with Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R Nides and US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, held a meeting with Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Ms Hina Rabbani Khar, Federal Minister for Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Army Chief Gen Kayani.In that meeting at Ms Hina’s residence in Minister’s Enclave, the two sides took to finalising the nitty-gritty of a proposed agreement for reopening of the Nato supplies and other contentious matters between the two states, sources said. They said a breakthrough was almost achieved as nearly all the contentious issues were properly addressed to the mutual acceptance of both the sides.

They said, as per the agreement, the US would come up with something near apology on Salala checkpost attack, which had resulted in the martyrdom of 24 Pakistan Army personnel. Also, the US would announce immediate release of payments under CSF (coalition support fund), placed under bar after the standoff following Salala episode in November last. The issue of charges to be paid by Nato to Pakistan for using country’s communication infrastructure was also settled downward from what Pakistan had demanded –$5000 per container – to around $1000. These sources said the US has given assurance to Pakistan that it would compensate the country in some other way, for instance, assistance for social sector development. The greatest irritant was the matter of apology as Pakistan wanted an unconditional apology while the US was reluctant to do so, saying it had already deeply regretted the incident and assured that such incidents would not recur. Sources said the previous visit of Gen Allen saw a kind of breakthrough when he met with Gen Kayani and now after taking feedback and permission from his bosses in Washington he returned with their response. Sources said that relations between the two countries hit snag when a month or so ago the US had recalled its technical staff engaged in drafting and finalising mutually acceptable terms for restoration of Nato supply routes. But as the agreement seemed around the corner, the ever-hostile US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta too softened his tone and told the media in Washington the other day that both the countries were making serious and sincere efforts to resolve all the contentious issues.Also on Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on telephone and congratulated him on assuming his charge. Hillary pointed out that Pakistan and US are allies in the war against terror and hoped that the bilateral relations would improve during new PM’s tenure.

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf informed Hillary that Pakistan was determined to rooting out terrorism and would continue to play its due role in the international pursuit of weeding out this menace. He also thanked the secretary of state for congratulating him. Earlier in the day on Sunday, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar briefed the prime minister on the development in the talks with the US. They also discussed overall political situation in the country, sources aware of the deliberations of the meeting informed.The first visit of the new PM after assuming his charge to neighbouring Afghanistan was also discussed at length and it was decided that the premier would take up the matter of cross-border incursions with President Karazi. Sources said the PM stressed the need to maintain good relations with the US and vowed that Pakistan, being the frontline state in the war against terror, would continue to play its due role to crush non-state actors which were out to create unrest.

(Beenish Javed is associated with a private TV channel in Pakistan (ARY NEWS), while Nasir Ahmad Waqif is a reporter with Al-Jazeera TV, based in Kunduz, Afghanistan)

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