When the Taliban dishonored their word and exploited the trust of the Afghan government by assassinating Afghanistan’s High Peace Council Chair and its former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai was left with no choice but to approach the peace process with a pragmatic view. Mr. Karzai stated that Afghanistan will no longer enter into peace negotiations with the Taliban; instead it will hold direct talks with Taliban’s mentor, Pakistan.
Perhaps, this is one of the most realistic policies that has ever emerged from Afghanistan’s current presidency; however, based on historical facts, negotiating with Pakistan in hopes of bringing a long lasting peace to Afghanistan requires more than superior diplomatic skills. Here is why?
Contrary to the views of many external observers who evaluate Pakistan’s behavior on the basis of their own expectations, Pakistan government’s support for terrorism is not characterized by “irrationality” or craziness but rather it is highly regularized and internally consistent.
Historically, after World War II, when Britain decided to downsize its colonial stake in South Asia, the Congress Party of India and the British viceroy had, at last, agreed with the Muslim League that independence would be granted to India on the basis of partition of the subcontinent, guaranteeing the Muslim of India their own separate state through the establishment of Pakistan. The British government, however, did not give due consideration to the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), situated west of the Indus River and part of the Frontier, was mostly composed of lands formerly belonging to Afghanistan and was essentially inhabited by Pashtuns.
This Pashtun dilemma is the essential cause of more than a half-century long animosity between Afghanistan and Pakistan. While, undeniably, it would have been responsible for Britain to streamline Pakistan’s entry into statehood by removing the Pashtun problem from Afghan-Pakistan relations beforehand, the evolution of geopolitics dictates otherwise.
Pakistan has, since its establishment, attempted to employ brinkmanship and unconventional crisis-oriented “guerrilla” tactics to foster an atmospheres designed to weaken Afghanistan’s position & extract concession. Pakistani negotiators – whether the military, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or the foreign office – have shown remarkably consistent style, behavior, and objective in their interactions with Afghan and American officials. While senior Pakistani officials have constantly promised at the negotiating table, that includes former Pakistani Dictator Pervis Musharaf, to eradicate terrorist sanctuaries within Pakistan territory, their actions or lack of, speak otherwise.
Today, the government of Pakistan overtly uses NWFP also known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa & Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) to recruit, nurture, congregate, & train Taliban terrorists to stage attacks on Afghan civilians, the United States Armed Forces & our NATO allies.
Given the nature of Pakistan’s military leadership, which converges in all its aspects and elements with a Jihadi complex, it would be difficult for Afghanistan and its partner, the United States, to achieve a significant settlement with tactics that employ mild diplomatic language.
Even Pakistan’s advocate Anatol Lieven, a professor at King’s College London, who had spent more than four years living in Pakistan and researching its government’s behavior concluded that: “If Washington wishes to improve relations with Pakistan, it needs to stop regarding Pakistan as an ally, and to start regarding it as an enemy — at least as far as the Afghan War is concerned.”
Lieven’s idea to change our rhetoric vis-à-vis Pakistan might help the Obama administration to depart from unrealistic sets of expectations and it, perhaps, invalidates the US State Department’s cosmetic phrase, “rogue elements within Pakistan Military and the ISI,” while for fact we know that Pakistan military and the ISI espouse terrorism & violence to express Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Although Lieven’s view is useful, it’s still unclear whether the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House views Pakistan as an enemy or as a failed State. Either way, the NSC is in an awkward position as the erosion of Pakistan’s reputation, among the American people, & our international allies, undermines any policy that tries to conjure up Pakistan as an ally.
Meanwhile, despite many Pakistani experts claim, the United States has rarely exhorted Pakistan to behave in accordance with US policies based on the generosity of US aid. For example: the US has never given Pakistan an ultimatum to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), however, the US has simply asked Pakistani government to not support, train, & protect terrorists in its citadels and allow its territory to be used as a staging ground against American interests – this is not an unrealistic demand but a minimum respect to diplomatic reciprocity – yet, it is worth noting that Pakistan has demonstrated a lack of concern with the United States & Afghanistan’s appeal or with harmful situation created by its overt support of the Haqqani Taliban & many other terrorist groups.
Afghanistan’s leaders must also realize that the process of negotiating with Pakistan itself has developed its own style and ritual, characterized by seemingly contradictory techniques at different stages. It’s fundamentally acceptable for the Afghan government to call Pakistan its enemy, yet enter into negotiations rather than calling Pakistan a “brother” and exude weakness in the negotiating process. Historically, many enemies have reached armistice through negotiations without ever calling each other brothers.
Finally, simply calling Pakistan an enemy is insufficient. We need a policy that addresses our Pakistan problem appropriately. A comprehensive policy that supports the US & Afghanistan interests effectively. If we have decided to treat Pakistan as an enemy, what action does it imply? Land invasion, increased drones attacks, denuclearizing Pakistan through clandestine operation or an International isolation through a United Nations Security Council resolution? Will it achieve our long term benefits or objectives?
Wahid Monawar is a former chief of staff of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a former permanent representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations in Vienna, Austria. Follow him @AfghanPolicy