No alternative but talks

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US, Afghanistan and Pakistan

 

 

Dilating on the regional security situation in the context of continued Indo-Pak tensions at the United State Institute of Peace (USIP), Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged the international community to play a role in de-escalating the snow-balling Indo-Pak crisis by dissuading India from belligerent posture towards Pakistan, rather than being apprehensive about defensive responses by Pakistan.

The Prime Minster ostensibly was referring to the concern being expressed in the US and western countries about the development of short-range missiles by Pakistan capable of carrying small nuclear warheads. He emphasised that for Washington to play a constructive role in averting the ever present danger of escalation and promoting stability in South Asia, it was imperative to review some of the existing assumptions and analysis and give more attention to Pakistan’s interests and views. Lamenting the spurning of peace initiatives of Pakistan by India and its feverish arms build-up with the assistance of several powers, he reiterated that there was no alternative for India and Pakistan other than resuming a comprehensive dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

What Nawaz Sharif said was the most candid and realistic exposition of the ground realities that need to be acknowledged by the powers that be, if they are genuinely and sincerely interested in ensuring peace and stability in the region. It is a known fact that the US and its western allies have a tilt towards India whom they are trying to catapult as a regional super power under the ‘contain China policy’, showing complete indifference to interests and security of Pakistan which faces credible threats from India. Under the circumstances, Pakistan cannot compromise on its security and is forced to develop and maintain a minimum and credible nuclear deterrent to discourage India from committing any indiscretion which could jeopardise peace and stability in South Asia.

In the Obama-Sharif meeting the need for stability and balance in South Asia was stressed. That requires impartial and unbiased appraisal of the ground realities, recognising the irritants posing threat to peace and stability and then taking concrete measures in resolving them. The basic issue between India and Pakistan is Kashmir whose non-resolution continues to bedevil relations between the two countries. Stability and balance in South Asia can be achieved through settlement of Kashmir dispute only. But it is regrettable that the Modi government has not responded positively to the peace initiative by Nawaz government and instead has taken a belligerent disposition towards Pakistan. Even the four-point formula presented by Nawaz Sharif in his address to UN General Assembly as a way forward in resolving disputes between the two countries was readily rejected.

The bilateral mechanism to resolve issues between the two countries provided in the Simla Agreement has failed to produce any positive results during the last 43 years due to Indian intransigence. Under the circumstances, as observed by Nawaz Sharif in his interaction with the media after talks with Obma, the issue requires mediation by a third party and according to him US was the appropriate third party for the purpose. The non-resolution of the Kashmir issue even after more than six decades and non-implementation of the UN resolutions is an affront to the world community and the UN, who are under obligation to have it resolved if they are really interested in seeing peace and stability in South Asia. It is also important from the perspective of proving their credentials as supporters of the right of self-determination.

In the Obama-Sharif meeting both sides stressed the need and reiterated their commitment for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution of the conflict through a process of reconciliation and Obama underlined the role that Pakistan could still play in bringing the Taliban and the Afghan government on the negotiating table. Sharif, expressing commitment by Pakistan to facilitate and nudge the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan, told the audience at the USIP that Pakistan could not bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, while getting involved in action against them as expected by the Afghan government. He is absolutely right. Pakistan does not approve of what the Taliban are doing now and regards their actions as terrorism but to be able to exercise some influence on them it needs to stay neutral as far as armed conflict between Taliban and Afghan government is concerned. If Pakistan becomes a party it would lose the trust and confidence of the Taliban. The US decision to extend the mandate of US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 in view of the recent surge in the Taliban attacks could be justified in some respects but it is hard to take an issue with the position taken by Sharif that talks and action against Taliban could not go together.

With the issue of succession to Mullah Omar almost settled and Mullah Mansoor having won the allegiance of most of the fighting groups, perhaps the atmosphere for approach to Taliban would gradually become more congenial. But some kind of ceasefire was absolutely necessary for Pakistan to reinitiate the dialogue process. Pakistan’s sincerity and desire for peace is beyond reproach. Pakistan is convinced that peace and stability in Afghanistan is absolutely imperative for peace in Pakistan and fighting the scourge of terrorism. It would be the last country to wish instability in Afghanistan. It initiated efforts for first ever direct interface between the Taliban and the Afghan government at the behest of Afghan President and the second round of the talks was about to happen when the events occurring in the backdrop of Mullah Omar’s death stymied the whole effort.

The Afghan government, instead of blaming Pakistan for the resurgence of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, needs to evaluate the situation realistically. The scourge of terrorism, across the border attacks and the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be quelled without an infallible cooperation between the two countries, the inevitability of which was also duly recognised in the dialogue between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Obama. The US is also now convinced of an indiscriminate action against all factions of TTP including Haqqani Network and the top US commander in Afghanistan General John F Campbell in a testimony before the Armed Services Committee of the Senate has acknowledged the credibility of claims made by Pakistan in this regard. That should be enough for the Afghan government to trust Pakistan and resurrect the bonhomie that was built between the two countries immediately after the formation of unity government in Afghanistan.