US framework for peace

US SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton delivered the Holbrooke Memorial Address at the Asia Society in New York on Feb 18. Here she outlined a comprehensive plan to end the Afghan war.

The plan includes the initiation of a diplomatic surge in addition to military operations. According to the plan the goal of the US remains the disruption and dismantling of Al Qaeda that, according to her, is capable of harming the US. She warned that if the Taliban in Afghanistan wanted to remain politically relevant then they needed to disassociate themselves from Al Qaeda, give up violence and agree to accept the supremacy of the Afghan constitution.

She also referred to the pivotal role that Pakistan must play in forging peace in Afghanistan. At the same time, she indicated Washington’s continuing unease over the presence of Al Qaeda influence and safe havens in Fata as threats to regional peace.

Among the main highlights of her address was the point that the US would continue to pursue a three-surge strategy. The military surge would operate in tandem with a civilian one to revitalise the economies of Afghanistan and Pakistan; this would be combined with a diplomatic surge to end the war.

Second, the reconciliation with the Taliban would be subject to conditions including adherence to human rights and freedom of women.

Third, the US would relentlessly degrade the Taliban militarily. The Taliban would continue to be ostracised internationally until they accepted a political compromise. The US also accepted that it would never kill enough insurgents to win this war outright.

Finally, US civilian and military efforts would support a durable political settlement and for this the US would intensify our regional diplomacy to enable a political process.

Recently, the UN commented on the security situation in Afghanistan that shows increasing insecurity as compared with the previous months. It reflects a counter-intuitive pattern of violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the use of military force has not stabilised the overall situation. It shifts the fighters from one place to another. If the Taliban remain strong in the countryside can the US strategy prevail?

In many ways, the situation in Afghanistan parallels events in South Vietnam in January 1968 at the start of the Tet offensive. Although North Vietnam lost more than 50,000 dead yet the attack belied the US assessment that it was winning. Although the US prevailed during the Tet offensive it lost the war. It thus appears that the US military commanders in Afghanistan are giving a positive spin to the results of the surge, when, on the ground, matters have not improved.

Evidently, the US commanders are playing with reality to support their conclusions. If the real world does not conform to their analysis then reality is bent and an unrealistic picture is portrayed. The Taliban are thus better placed and in stronger shape than assumed. However, this may incline them more towards negotiations and may help in concluding a peace agreement.

Among the most promising recent interventions for peace is the diplomatic effort begun by Turkey and involving both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a promising move and likely to succeed in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. At the same time, Karzai’s reliance on the High Peace Council under Burhanuddin Rabbani for building moral pressure for peace amongst Afghanistan’s communities is succeeding in mobilising the move towards peace.

The appointment of the new US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman as successor to the late Richard Holbrooke indicates that the US has chosen one of its ablest former diplomats, who is credited with a major role in achieving the Dayton Accords in the Balkans. This is also another indicator of its faith in Turkey’s initiative for achieving peace in Afghanistan.

Grossman served in Pakistan during the Mujahideen war against the erstwhile USSR. Later, he was ambassador to Turkey and subsequently played a formative role in redefining Nato’s new mandate for a larger regional engagement. Thus, the new top diplomat is influentially placed to lead the diplomatic surge visualised by Ms Clinton.

For the peace process to move forward it will be necessary for the Taliban to de-link themselves from Al Qaeda and commit not to provide them a safe haven in the future. Yet, there are quite a few stumbling blocks in the road to peace.

To remove the bottlenecks and to have an idea of preconditions essential for peace that both the sides may wish, it is essential to draw an acceptable agenda that is a prerequisite for peace talks. This is likely to involve informal back-door negotiations somewhat like the secret peace talks between the US and North Vietnam in the 1970s. These can only begin if the Taliban are engaged now in the peace process.

One way out of the impasse is for the Taliban to open an office in Turkey, where preliminary contacts can be established to develop an agenda. Such talks are normally laborious and demanding. Because of the nature of the conflict in Afghanistan, it may be prudent to appoint an experienced mediator by the UN to bridge the opposing power centres. The move would help establish a monitoring system to enforce a subsequent ceasefire.

Clearly, the US military objectives under the surge strategy will need to be closely calibrated with the momentum of the peace process. The time is thus ripe for Pakistan to use its leverage in Afghanistan to assist the peace process while not getting involved in internal Afghan affairs. The future security and wellbeing of Pakistan lies in acting positively in this matter.  The writer is chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar.

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