The US confusion

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The entire Afghanistan peace process is hanging between the optimism and pessimism!

Whenever there is a bilateral, trilateral or multi-lateral negotiation process aimed at achieve a lasting peace and stability in the war-hit Afghanistan, hopes seem to be running high. Optimism is an objective approach for finding a brighter future for Afghans; however, one has to keep in mind the ground realities of the Afghan conflict and uncounted difficulties connected to it.

The recent trilateral core group meeting of Pakistan-US-Afghanistan ended with lot of optimism in Islamabad last week. The member countries of the core group agreed to establish two sub-groups with an idea for achieving peace and security through the reconciliation process.

According to the details, the first group comprising of experts will arrange a “safe passage” for those Taliban who are willing to be engaged in the negotiation process and like to travel through Pakistan to other countries and within Afghanistan.

All the three dignitaries representing their respective countries – Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Jalil Abbas Jilani, Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghnaistan Jawed Luden, and US Special Representative for Afghanistan Marc Grossman – in their joint press conference declared the agreement a great accomplishment.

In the diplomatic circles, the new proposal might be a mighty achievement, but in reality there are many ifs and buts attached to the so-called ‘safe passage’ proposal. Initially, nothing has been elaborated so far as to what really the ‘safe passage’ means? Is it to provide security to those Taliban who are willing to enter into any kind of negotiation? Or, is it to facilitate their travelling within and outside Afghanistan, facilitating in acquiring visa and other traveling documents? Or, is it only the facilitation or also influencing and convincing various factions of Taliban, ethnic groups, war lords and hardcore militants to participate in the talks?

The Afghan junior minister Jawed said, “We really welcome this initiative of ‘safe passage’ which will mean our experts can meet and take this process further, we need to be able to find them, those who are willing to talk.” There are certain serious and confusing questions about the phrase ‘our experts.’

Naturally, Mr Jawed was referring to Afghans but who those experts would be? Representatives from the Afghan government, members of the High Piece Council, an Afghan government sponsored body, politicians of different ethnic/nationalists’ groups? What would be the mandate of that expert group? What would be the fundamentals for negotiations?

By introducing new linguistic terminologies like ‘safe passage’, neither the safety nor the passage would be ensured. Those who are well-versed with the Afghan conflict know that the basic issue in Afghanistan is the persisting trust deficit among the various stakeholders including Taliban, Afghan government, United States and Pakistan. None of them have full confidence in each other; everyone believes that the other is working against its interest.

This environment of distrust has remained the biggest hurdle in the path of finding a viable solution to the Afghan conflict. That’s why the Afghan Taliban, within 24 hours of the declaration of ‘safe passage’ agreement, refused to accept any such proposal which they feel is tantamount to dividing the Taliban.

The fate of the second sub-group proposed to be established at the United Nations with the three countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan, US, as members remains unclear too. What mandate the said group would have? Will the US agree to delist the names of Taliban form the self created terrorist list? On what grounds the Taliban would be convinced to respect the initiative?

Basically, the fact of the matter is that Americans have miserably failed to achieve their peace dream in Afghanistan. All the five centres of powers in the United States, including the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA and the Congress are confused and divided over the Afghan conflict’s solution.

President Obama is in a hurry regarding the ‘Afghan War’ because of his aspiration to stay in the White House after 2012. In this state, he looks completely confused and does not know what policy or the strategy should be adopted to bring some kind of workable peace initiative in Afghanistan.

At the same time, so far the US administration’s diplomatic efforts have also failed to re-engage Pakistan after unprovoked Salala attack by its troops from across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border last year. The US is not willing to tender apology to Pakistan and find out some kind of mechanism regarding the most castigated drone attacks in the FATA area killing more civilians than the terrorists. The egoistic and stubborn attitude adopted by the US will not pave way for early NATO supplies’ resumption as there is a lot of pressure on the PPP government from within and outside the parliament.

In wake of American troops’ barbaric night assaults on the innocent civilians, the public opinion in Afghanistan about the US and President Karzai’s government is not in their favour as well. The world witnessed large scale street protests after the desecration of Holy Quran, urinating the dead afghan bodies, killing of 17 civilians by a marine and setting them on fire are some of the hated actions being committed by the US troops in the recent months, which make all peace efforts difficult rather impossible to succeed.

The recent attack on the Kabul along with four other Afghanistan provinces by the Taliban was a clear message to the US that the Taliban were still not willing to join the peace negotiation from a weaker position and would not participate in any US or Afghan government sponsored reconciliation process.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the former US Ambassador to Kabul, in an article published in the Foreign Policy magazine recently, has acknowledge the fact that “US leverage in Afghanistan is likely to decline in the coming years. The key challenge in the next year is working with the Afghan government on talking corruption, integrating the Taliban and reaching an understanding with Pakistan. After a decade-long military campaign, prudent diplomacy could allow the United States to wind down the mission with its core interests secured.” But, Mr Zalmay did not spell out what that diplomacy was?

Finally, under these circumstances no core or the sub-groups initiatives could succeed until the US is practically out of its confusion and openly tells Afghanistan, Pakistan and to the rest of the world as to what it actually wants in Afghanistan.

The writer hosts a primetime talk show on a TV channel and can be contacted via email: [email protected]