All the efforts of the trilateral summit for mutual cooperation appear to have soured because of the inherent sharp differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan. While Iran can take away from the summit the satisfaction of President Zardari’s assurance that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used against Iran and will pursue its relationship with Tehran irrespective of US or other external pressures, President Karzai must be scratching his head after Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s extraordinary press conference. For a start, the language Ms Khar used for President Karzai’s request to bring Kabul and the Afghan Taliban together hardly qualifies as ‘diplomatic’. “Ridiculous”, “preposterous” and “unrealistic” are ‘new’ ways to address the concerns of a visiting head of state, no matter how unpalatable to us. Ms Khar’s approach raises questions about her brief, which appeared contradictory to the apparent atmosphere of friendship and bonhomie amongst the three heads of state and which was reflected in the final communiqué.
One explanation for the unprecedented pique underlying Ms Khar’s diatribe may lie in the reports that Karzai and COAS General Kayani’s and ISI chief General Pasha’s interaction was full of sound and fury. Did the worthy foreign minister feel compelled in the light of this exchange to reiterate forcefully the views of the Pakistani military? Even more serious, how is the demand that Pakistan facilitate contacts with the Afghan Taliban and their leader Mullah Omar ‘preposterous’? Is this not the thrust of the halting peace process seeking an end to hostilities in Afghanistan? Is this not also what the US had been demanding from Pakistan before tiring of its prevarication and embarking on a unilateral effort to talk to the Taliban? Does Ms Khar seriously expect the world to swallow the obvious playing with the truth that the Afghan Taliban are based on and enjoy safe havens on Pakistani soil? Not only that, they enjoy the backing of the Pakistani military establishment as proxies? Even President Zardari tried a feeble defence of the military by denying any links with the Afghan insurgents, repeating the foreign office mantra that such links are by now ‘history’. The fact of the matter is that the civilian government has considered discretion the better part of valour since it came to power and surrendered Afghan policy to the military. That is why the expressions of solidarity and cooperation in the summit communiqué, at least as far as Pak-Afghan relations are concerned, can only be treated with scepticism.
Ms Khar, in answer to a question at her press conference, made no effort to paper over what appear to have been acrimonious exchanges between the Pakistani and Afghan sides. In fact she justified the atmospherics by saying both sides needed “hard talks”. With due respect, what is on offer from Islamabad is less ‘hard talk’ and more ‘hard policy’. Ms Khar and her government seem to be playing to the tune of the military establishment’s obsession with India and the inroads it has made by projecting ‘soft’ power in Afghanistan. That has allowed New Delhi to re-establish the historical friendship with Kabul, a development that has hardened the Pakistani GHQ’s approach to supporting Taliban proxies to control Afghanistan.
So long as the Pakistani military’s policy on proxy control of Afghanistan is adhered to, there appears no early end to the ongoing war in our neighbouring country. Even post-withdrawal of US/NATO forces from the theatre, a new or continuing civil war in Afghanistan looms, the effects of which will inevitably spill over into Pakistan and render all the good wishes for peace, stability and progress for the region a non-starter.