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A framework for peace in Afghanistan

Previous attempts at establishing peace in Afghanistan have failed consistently. It is now clear that where others did not succeed, Ankara’s three-year-old initiative, led by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, prevailed in laying a road map for peace in Afghanistan, when he hosted a trilateral forum of Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan during the last week of December 2010. This intervention by Turkey is a serious move and, while the US was less successful in bringing Pakistan and Afghanistan to talk to one another, Abdullah Gul has succeeded.

Making peace in Afghanistan is problematic. Yet, some of the latest events have raised hopes by the arrival of top-level visitors to Islamabad. These included acting special US representative for Afghanistan, Frank Ruggeiro and Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of the Afghan High Council for Peace, with his delegation. They had meetings with Pakistani civilian and military authorities. US Vice-President Joe Biden visited Islamabad yesterday. General Fahim, the Northern Alliance leader, met the Iranian leaders separately to put their reservations to rest. It may be noted that Iran, India, the Central Asian States and Russia have expressed reservations about negotiations with the Taliban that may give them a share in power.

It is now apparent that there is likely to be a cleavage amongst the allies on the future of peace in Afghanistan  the mistrust of the Taliban is based on their medieval approach to governance and human rights when they ruled Afghanistan until their removal in November 2001.

Yet, this is a morally untenable position because the longer the war lasts in Afghanistan, the worse will be the position of the Afghans, who will be dying in abundance as a result of Nato military operations.

The only way to end this bloodletting is through meaningful peace talks with the Taliban.

The US should be happy if the Taliban delink from al Qaeda and commit to never provide them with a safe haven. Yet, there are quite a few stumbling blocks in the way to peace. To remove these and to gain an insight into the future parameters of peace building, it is a prerequisite to draw up an official agenda for peace talks.

This will involve informal, backdoor negotiations, as has happened in other similar situations in the past  one of the best models to follow will be the secret peace talks between the US and the North Vietnamese in the 1970s. Talks can only begin if the Taliban officially get involved in the peace process. One way out of the impasse is for Turkey to invite the Taliban to open an office in Turkey where the preliminary work can begin. Once an agenda for the peace talks has been drawn up, serious negotiations can start.

Peace talks of this nature are both laborious and demanding. Thus, it will be opportune to have the UN appoint an experienced mediator to guide them. It is also clear that peace talks need to be conducted by an institution that is neutral and also brings assets needed subsequently in monitoring the ceasefire, by providing armed peace keepers from those Muslim nations that do not have any strategic objectives in Afghanistan.

Clearly, the Nato military objectives drawn under the surge strategy will need to be abandoned. The time is now ripe for Pakistan to use its leverage to assist the Afghan peace process while remaining uninvolved in internal Afghan affairs. That is where Pakistan’s salvation lies.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2011.

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