Monday, July 9, 2012
Daily Times editorial July 10, 2012
Tokyo conference on Afghanistan The core group on Afghanistan, comprising Pakistan, the US and Afghanistan, issued a joint statement at the conclusion of the Tokyo conference urging the Taliban to abandon violence and enter a dialogue with the Afghan government to find a peaceful solution to the country’s long running war. The trio of countries agreed to work together for an inclusive Afghan peace. They also underlined the fact that their joint efforts and sacrifices had decimated al Qaeda’s core leadership in the region. The donors at the conference pledged $ 16 billion to support Afghanistan through till 2015 to ensure that post-withdrawal, the country does not slip back into warlordism and instability. The aid does come with some conditions though, including fighting widespread corruption. The roughly $ 4 billion a year pledged falls short of the $ 6 billion a year the Afghan central bank has said will be needed to foster economic growth over the next decade, which has been dubbed the ‘transformation decade’. Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had met Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. That interaction resulted in the US once again pressurising on Pakistan to act against the Haqqani network, accused of being responsible for attacks on US/NATO forces in and around Kabul. The rocky relationship between the US and Pakistan seems finally to be returning on track after the issue of the apology for the Salala attack was 'sorted out'. The apology may not have satisfied many in Pakistan, but it was considered sufficient by the Pakistan government to reopen the NATO supply lines. In return, the blocked Coalition Support Funds of $ 1.1 billion will be reimbursed to Pakistan. A compromise was also struck on charges per NATO truck, Pakistan finally settling for $ 1,000 per truck instead of the $ 5,000 it initially demanded. The fresh bonhomie was tempered by Hillary Clinton’s caution that although Pakistan and the US were now moving forward from the impasse of the past few months, the relationship will continue to raise hard questions. She announced a shift in the US’s emphasis from aid to trade to assist Pakistan’s economy. Meanwhile Hina Rabbani Khar announced aid to Afghanistan of $ 300 million for infrastructure and development work, including in the social sector. This marks a further shift in Pakistan’s projection of ‘soft’ power. However, that does not mean that the policy of duality has ended or that Pakistan has clearly and unequivocally broken with its Afghan Taliban proxies. Islamabad is being cajoled to deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table, but things have changed considerably even in the last year or so. It is no longer certain that the Taliban and the Haqqani network are totally in the control of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. Mullah Omar’s Taliban especially had been reported to be straining at the ISI leash. The Qatar direct talks between the US and the Taliban, which had run into roadblocks, seem to have been revived after Washington finally agreed in principle to release the Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay that the Taliban had been demanding. Initially the Qatar initiative seemed to have bypassed the ISI, and reports suggested the foot dragging on the Taliban side was part of this problem. Now it is not so certain that the Taliban are listening in all respects to the ISI. The recent spate of cross-border attacks from Afghan territory, ascribed to the Pakistani Taliban who have found safe havens on the Afghan side with the help of the Haqqani network spotlights the difficulties the mentors may be encountering to get their proxies to go along with Pakistan’s considerations in the Afghan theatre. This development is being viewed in some circles as the Haqqani network ungratefully biting the hand that fed them. The Tokyo conference may represent the will of the countries attending, as well as their hopes for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces. However, interred in these hopes may be some element of wishful thinking, given the uncertainty about what will follow the withdrawal. Questions about the capacity of the Afghan National Forces to contain the insurgency on their own, as well as concerns shared by the world community about the ability of the post-withdrawal Afghan dispensation to govern efficaciously and in the interests of the people, without reversing the gains made in the last 11 years in terms of women, minorities, and democratic rights. Only time will tell whether the hopes of the donors and backers of Kabul are destined to be disappointed or have their best wishes fulfilled.