The Path To Reconciliation – Khadim Hussain

DESPITE Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif`s assurances to President Hamid Karzai on the subject during his recent visit to Kabul, much mystery still surrounds the release of Mullah Baradar.

However, the latter development as well as the recent release of prominent Afghan Taliban commanders and other Taliban personnel by Pakistan have varied implications. The men were released due to the consistent demand of the Afghan High Peace Council responsible for internal reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Some observers believe that the US and Afghan governments are eager to present a scenario where Mullah Omar and his shura may not be the only representative resistance force in Afghanistan.

Others think that the released men might put the High Peace Council in touch with the Taliban shura for intensive talks before the 2014 Nato pullout from Afghanistan.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are set to play a central role in the post-2014 regional scenario. There are three sets of challenges for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The post-2014 challenges include reconciliation, reconstruction and transition. Each challenge has several aspects to it. Take the first challenge: reconciliation.

First, the intra-Afghan dialogue means negotiation within the state of Afghanistan, which includes the government, parliament, warlords, insurgents and civil society, in order to resolve outstanding issues among themselves and within the country.

This process is significant as each group by default represents a particular ethnic, linguistic, social or political group. The major hindrance to any process of reconciliation will remain a conscious, or unconscious, effort by any group to force its will on others, thus paving the way for Afghanistan`s division.

Second, reconciliation also means a regional dialogue on Afghanistan. A convergence of interests of the regional states needs to be discovered through intensive and extensive engagement with each other. Economic interest might be one area of cooperation.

The third aspect is the dialogue with international stakeholders including Nato, the UN and the International Security Assistance Force which means the European Union and North America.

Besides the EU and North America, Turkey and Saudia Arabia have shown an increasing interest in Afghanistan in recent years.

It is in this context that the role of and challenges for Pakistan need to be analysed.

It is of utmost importance for Pakistan, as for other regional states, that the Afghan government`s position is strengthened politically in the ongoing process of internal reconciliation in Afghanistan. For the regional states, this will be a prerequisite for political and economic stability. For this to happen, Pakistan and India need to resolve their own outstanding issues instead of risking regional stability.

Pakistan should ideally deny space on its soil to those insurgent groups that refuse to engage in negotiations with the Afghan government.

Pakistan also needs to send a similar signal to groups that remain affiliated with Al Qaeda and the international jihadist network.

If Pakistan cannot muster the political will to take either of these actions it will, in all probability, face a backlash from the `Emirate of Afghanistan` on its territory.

Keeping in view the precari-ous security situation and fragility of political and economic institutions, Pakistan might find itself standing at the mouth of a roaring volcano in 2014.

The release of prominent Afghan Taliban commanders this year at the behest of the Afghan High Peace Council is a positive contribution by Pakistan to Afghanistan`s internal reconciliation effort.

Pakistan should build on this to create a level of trust between insurgent groups and the Afghan government.

This will help in the success of the reconciliation attempt.

But it must be borne in mind that any trust might lessen if the Taliban leadership suspects a deliberate effort by either the international stakeholders or by Afghanistan or Pakistan of a conspiracy to divide the Taliban command. In the same vein, trust might be damaged if the Afghan Taliban leadership does not sever its ties with Al Qaeda.

The Pakistani establishment, on the other hand, might not be enthusiastically supportive of the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan if it continues to suspect that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is being constantly backed by the Afghan government.

After extensively and minutely observing the current political situation and the complexities of ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, one reaches the conclusion that Al Qaeda is creating the same problems between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan through the TTP as it was previously perceived to have done between India and Pakistan through the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Hence, both governments need to be extra cautious in the effort to ensure a smooth pullout of Nato combat forces in 2014. The second set of challenges to peace in Afghanistan includes institutional reconstruction. The priority list may include theeconomy, parliament, political parties, communications, civil society and the media.

Again, all regional states, especially Pakistan, can contribute tremendously towards helping to develop an economy of peace to replace the present war economy in Afghanistan.

In return, Afghanistan could help Pakistan expand its trade and transactions for energy resources with Central Asia. Besides, Pakistan can also benefit from the economy of peace in Afghanistan in Fata, referred to as the Af-Pak region, given the presently appalling security conditions in Pakistan.

The development of an economy of peace in Afghanistan and the Af-Pak region might prevent the Salafi international jihadist network from retaining its critical space in the region.

The third set of challenges for post-2014 Afghanistan is related to transition. Political transition might take place after five months with general elections and without Hamid Karzai.

The economic transition, a big challenge for Afghanistan, will take place after the Nato withdrawal. The most important transition concerns a complete ownership of Afghanistan`s defence by the Afghan National Army.

Again the role of Pakistan and other regional states must be of substance.