Friday, December 5, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 6, 2014

London conference The conference in London hosted by the UK and Afghanistan was focused on the future of the latter country after the withdrawal of all but a few thousand US/NATO troops by December 31. The conference was attended by British Prime Minister (PM) David Cameron, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, US Secretary of State John Kerry and PM Nawaz Sharif. Addressing the conference, Nawaz Sharif laid out Pakistan’s policy vis-à-vis its troubled neighbour. He told the conference that Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed to fight terrorism together without discrimination. Expressing strong solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, Nawaz Sharif made a strong plug for the international community to do more to support Kabul in its endeavours to bring peace and development to the country. Nawaz Sharif pointed to the national unity government formed in Afghanistan after the presidential elections (albeit after a fair bit of controversy regarding rigging in the election) as a milestone. He welcomed President Ghani’s call for a dialogue with the Taliban (although it must be admitted there are so far no signs the latter are interested). Nawaz Sharif pointed to the historic new beginning in ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan manifested in the first visit of President Ghani. The two sides had agreed not to allow their territory to be used against the other. It is of interest to note that although FATA is being cleared by Operation Zarb-e-Azb of terrorists, including the Haqqani network, there is so far no word on Mulla Omar’s Quetta Shura’s fate. However, the encouraging development is that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan forces sitting on Afghan soil are being squeezed by US airstrikes and actions by the Afghan forces and tribes. PM Nawaz Sharif reiterated his government’s resolve to deepen security and economic cooperation between the two countries, including bilateral and transit trade, investment, and fast tracking the CASA-1000 and TAPI projects, both of which have been hamstrung for years because of security fears in transiting through Afghanistan among other reasons. The PM also emphasised that Pakistan would follow up the Heart of Asia-Istanbul process to strengthen Afghanistan’s ability to stand on its own feet after the western withdrawal. Whereas the US, UK and other attendees pledged to support Afghanistan even after the withdrawal, there are a number of negatives attending the ability and will of the donors to fulfil this pledge. In any case, this conference was not expected to, nor was it designed for, any new aid pledges for Afghanistan. However, some of the factors that cast a shadow of doubt over Kabul’s ability to continue to attract critical aid are donor fatigue due to the global economic crisis, and Afghanistan being seen as a bottomless pit in which billions of dollars of aid since 2001 has disappeared due to corruption and waste, for which both donors and recipients are blamed. President Ashraf Ghani being a professional financial expert is expected to improve this area of governance in order to inspire confidence in the donor community that they are not throwing good money after bad. The issue is critical to the survival of the government and its ability to overcome the challenge of the Taliban, which is already intensifying since the beginning of this year and is expected to exponentially increase as soon as the western forces depart, especially in the absence of a peace process between Kabul and its enemies. COAS General Raheel Sharif’s extended visit to the US raised a few eyebrows at home because of the extraordinary protocol he was extended. The realists among us ascribed this to the recognition by Washington that without the army on board, no change of direction could be expected to succeed vis-à-vis combating terrorism as an allied effort. General Sharif was at pains in Washington to assert that the army was battling terrorists without discrimination, which opened the door to a convergence of positions amongst Washington, Islamabad and Kabul. As far as the military operation in FATA is concerned, it could be considered the first major step to implement General Sharif’s doctrine of regarding non-state actors as the biggest threat, as he delineated in his speech in Karachi the other day. This is all to the good, welcome, and long overdue. But the ticklish question of Mulla Omar and the Taliban remains unanswered so far. That is the real test of the new paradigm.

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