Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban

Editorial -- Express Tribune (coming out soon in the market)

The interview to the BBC by former UN envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide in which he quite bluntly said that Pakistan’s arrest of Mullah Baradar ended up secret talks with the Taliban has created quite a storm. The Foreign Office in Islamabad has rejected Mr Eide’s assertions saying that Pakistan itself wanted these talks to go ahead and that its action to arrest Mr Baradar had been “misinterpreted”. A day earlier Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said – and one can understand his exasperation – that why would the former UN envoy make such a statement. Implicit in the foreign minister’s question would be a hint that perhaps Mr Eide is saying all this at some other party’s behest, a party which is not very happy with Pakistan’s action because it may have caused the said party to lose leverage with the Taliban. If this is indeed the case – though on the face of it there is no evidence to suggest that it should be – then the UN official’s remarks will be seen as coming not from a neutral observer but from someone who is clearly taking side – i.e. not the side that Pakistan is on.
The interview is quite explicit in that the former UN envoy quite clearly said that the arrest was carried out with Pakistan knowing fully of the consequences that it would have on the peace talks. This line of reasoning was brought up earlier in some western news reports as well when Mr Baradar’s arrest initially became known. At that time it was dismissed as a conspiracy theory – among the dozens that seek to explain what goes on in this part of the world – propagated by elements who were not happy at Pakistan gaining leverage in the talks that America and its western allies were having with the Taliban for a possible peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. The Foreign Office spokesman who contested the contents of Mr Eide’s interview also publicly admitted (and this is perhaps the first time that a Pakistani official has done this) that the operation to net Mullah Omar’s right-hand man was a joint operation in which US officials took part as well. Clearly, the suggestion is also that if Pakistan was in fact trying to sabotage the secret talks with the Taliban then what were the Americans doing taking part in the raid?
At the same time, as it presses its point, Islamabad, and perhaps more so Rawalpindi, must both realize that they suffer from a serious trust deficit as far as claims on such matters are concerned. Pakistan’s actions in the past where it has said one thing and done entirely another are not easily forgotten by the rest of the world and that is why often when it does something in today’s world, other countries don’t readily believe them or that they are being done with the right intentions. Of course one view to counter this would be – and this is being said for the sake of argument – that all countries need to take into account their own interest first and policies need to be guided by these priorities. The issue in Pakistan however is that such priorities – and the interests that arise out of them – have since long been the exclusive domain of the military, and that is something that needs to change.

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