Pakistan, Afghanistan, U.S and the Taliban each has a different and conflicting expectation from the peace jirga. Its success will lie in obtaining commitment and action in those areas, where agreement is possible. Contentious issues should be left for the future after confidence of the parties has been established.
According to the joint declaration issued by the peace jirga in Kabul on the 12 August, the implementation Jirga will meet within two months. It has the task of implementing the decisions of the five jirga working committees. These decisions can be categorised into four groups.
The first group contains those decisions, which both Afghanistan & Pakistan would like to implement as early as possible and there is a broad agrrement on them. The second group contains those decisions, which both countries wish to implement after further negotiations. The third group of decisions would concern security matters, which first need agreement at the tri-partite level between Afghanistan, Pakistan and U.S. The fourth group includes decisions, which can be implemented only after discussions with the Taliban are held at a formal level by the jirga first. For this to happen, the Taliban must be recognized as the resistance and dealt under principles applicable to such a situation. This is something that the Northern Alliance will resist.
By implication, this calls for the tripartite parties to agree on a prior joint position. After an agreement is reached only then can meaningful contact be made with the Taliban.
My conjecture is that if an understanding is reached at the tri-partitite level on how to define the Taliban, then only will matters normalize in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, we should not be over optimistic, as an agreement satisfactory to the U.S, Taliban and the Northern Alliance component of the Afghan government will be difficult due to the past bad history between the parties.
An understanding of the issue of bad blood between the Northern Alliance and Taliban will remain a major obstacle in achieving a settlement. The U.S will have to find a way out, since the Northern Alliance will not support any such move. This Afghan acrimony highlights an important facet of current Afghan politics, whose understanding is essential for a solution.
During the Jihad years, Pakistani policy relating to Afghanistan was totally under its military. While diplomats are trained to build a wide consensus in support of policies, the military by training has a narrow approach limited to attaining supremacy in the short term. It does not care about the long term implications of its actions.
The result of this narrow approach was the isolation of the non-Pushtuns from integration into the mainstream of Jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets. The Jihadi funds and weapons were controlled by the Pakistani military. The elements constituting the Northern Alliance were thus excluded from the distribution of power and wealth by the Pakistan military. This laid the seed of future bad blood between the two.
The negative impact of this approach became evident fairly soon after 1992. Pakistani fixation on propagating a future political dispensation based on the Pushtuns led to two consequences.
Pakistan had no recourse left but to support the installation of the Taliban in Afghanistan since the Pushtuns were its past clients. It was Pakistani help, which led to the final victory of the Taliban and their installation as the government in Kabul; it was offensive to the other important minorities constituting Afghanistan, who were located on strategic borders amongst other seasoned participants of the Great Game. They opened bridges to the Russians and India.
Pakistani policy was flawed in another area also; it took little notice of the genuine interests of the Russian, Iranian, Indian, Chinese and U.S interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia. These countries have a stake in a crucial region abutting into sensitive space of Central Asia known for its energy and mineral potential.
It was this miscalculation which finally pitted the Northern Alliance against Pakistan with ample support of neighbouring Russia. It is this baggage of Pakistan’s defective Afghan policy, which has come to haunt it. The peace Jirga will have to contend with this legacy it if it wants to succeed.
After displacement of the Taliban in 2001, the Pushtun have been marginalized and are fighting a Northern Alliance led government in Kabul supported by the U.S. They see no other option. The peace jirga must find space for them or Afghanistan will not see peace.
Pakistan is thus left in an embarrassing situation; its failed Afghan policy is a cause of the continuing Pushtun unrest today. This condition is fueling the death tool and standing in the way of regional peace. Pakistani casualties in Waziristan are a product of this shortsighted policy.
The US lapsed into the same error as the Pakistan military, when it took over Kabul; some Pushtun venom and ill will could be assauged by providing them with jobs at the lower rung of the bureaucracy and military, reflecting Afghanistan’s demography. By not doing so, an ethnic aspect was added to a bad situation. Because of this failure, the internal situation in Afghanistan has become worse and does not bode well for the future.
The peace Jirga also must recognize the changing geopolitical situation. Russia under Putin is no longer the pliant state that it was even two years ago. He is challenging the US and NATO inroads into Central Europe. In Ukraine and Byelorussia Putin is resurgent; he is showing the thumb in the Baltic states by encouraging Russian minorities to become aggressive. Georgia and Central Asian states are feeling greater Russian heat. It is only a matter of time before Putin makes a show at Kabul.
Iran has the ability to disturb western Afghanistan at will. It made its presence felt by the forcible return of 80,000 Afghanistan refugees recently. It is also using warlords to assassinate elders in Herat. President Karzai has made encouraging comments about Iran as a constructive neighbour not risking an aggravation of the situation.
Iran has an interest in the continuation of the Karzai dispensation, since the Shias hold 15% of the top political positions in Kabul, beyond their population share. Therefore, it is presumed that Iran will not be interested in destabilizing Karzai, but is definitely sending a message to the U.S.
During the Jirga, the Afghans were adamant that the Pakistani Jirga should not raise ethnic matters relating to power sharing in Afghanistan. They were equally wary of questions relating to the presence of Indian consulates on Pakistan’s sensitive borders. Such an attitude shows a denial strategy, which is never conducive to finding a solution.
When during one of the jirga working committees, the issue of Afghan and Indian hostility in the shape of sponsored sabotage in Baluchistan and NWFP was raised, there was a plethora of protests from the Afghans on the ground that why the Jirga should interfere in Afghanistan’s sovereignty and dictate who will be its friend? The issue was temporarily resolved, when it was stated that Pakistan would produce criminal evidence in support of its allegation.
The Jirga agreed to examine this and if convinced, promised to recommend to the Karzai administration the review of placement of Indian consulates. A lot will depend on Pakistan completing its homework before the next meeting of the Jirga.
It is evident that the joint peace jirga between Pakistan and Afghanistan has opened a vast opportunity for peace in the region, if the major parties in this equation, the U.S and the Taliban are involved. If they are absent, nothing much will be achieved. Secondly, much homework needs to be done before the next Jirga meets before two months are over. However, I suspect Pakistan may ask for a postponement in view of the forthcoming elections. This will be unfortunate.
The joint declaration has agreed to set up an office each for the peace jirga in Islamabad and Kabul. It will be appropriate if we institutionalize the formation of such a secretariat as early as possible. It will show our seriousness in obtaining peace in the region. The U.S and the Taliban must also opt for peace by making positive contributions towards it. The peace jirga is an opportunity to set the path in the right direction. Failure will have a profound negative impact in the region and should be avoided at all cost.