Senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs and military officials associated with the latest round of talks say the Americans hold the key to any approach that the Afghans led by President Hamid Karzai might want to take on the issue of reconciliation. But, officials insist, it was a misplaced perception that Pakistan held the key to the Afghan reconciliation.
The problem is much deeper that what Pakistan wants, and, in fact, rooted in the Afghan history itself.
David Milliband, the former British foreign secretary, has also meanwhile joined the voices of caution, and come out in a bold manner on the western failures in his latest article in the Time magazine.
“Afghanistan's battles are not just between the Afghan and foreign forces and the Taliban insurgency, but between (and within) Afghanistan's often warring tribes. They know western patience is wearing thin; NATO has been there longer than the Russians. And also that while parts of the Afghan National Army are being trained well, it is a basically Tajik force seen as the enemy by many Pashtuns,” Milliband wrote in the Jan 16th issue.
Milliband also talks about Peter Tomsen, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Afghan Resistance, who was quoted in Ghost Wars that the only model for governing Afghanistan was "the decades between 1919 and 1973 when Zahir Shah's weak but benign royal family governed from Kabul and a decentralised politics prevailed in the countryside, infused with Islamic faith and dominated by tribal or clan hierarchies," Milliband wrote in the Jan 16th issue.
He pointed out that foreign forces, now numbering 32,000 in Helmand province alone, are suppressing the insurgency. The military tempo, despite the winter, is unremitting, as special forces "disrupt and dismantle" — in other words kill — Taliban fighters. However, the Wall Street Journal reported in December unpublished U.N. security assessments which showed a marked deterioration in the security situation in 2010. The U.N. spokesman confirmed that "in the course of 2010, the security situation in many parts of the country has become unstable where it previously had not been so."
Every one of the regional powers, Pakistan especially, would gain from an Afghanistan no longer exporting drugs, extremism and refugees. But none of these countries will gain anything if they hold out for Afghanistan to be their client state, Milliband cautions and advises to learn from the experiences of the late Richard Holbrook.
“There is a real danger now that ennui and complexity feeds drift. Debating dates for withdrawal is a distraction — and a falsely comforting one at that. The key is, and always has been, a political settlement which can make withdrawal possible on terms that protect regional and global interests. Holbrooke is gone, but we must learn his lessons,” Milliband concluded.
But his conclusions unfortunately run contrary to what the American establishment is currently pursuing. It hopes to arm-twist Pakistan into more military operations, and it would be disastrous if Pakistan buckled under. Joe Biden came to deliver a stern message, a message probably also of severe consequences like slapping indirect sanctions on Pakistan, or choking the funding stream to bend it.
Biden was probably right when he spoke of “hard days” ahead. And these days will likely put the Pakistani leadership to a greater test. Let us see what happens when the US desperation for military action in Waziristan collides with the Pakistani resistance to do so.