The Pulse

Karzai’s 20th Trip to Pakistan: Was it Different From the First?

The clash between the hope for peace and the war for influence continues in Afghanistan.

Lisa Kakar is a relieved girl now. She waited more than two months for the winners of the scholarship to be announced. Her happiness knew no bounds when the Indian Embassy in Kabul informed her she had been selected. She will now pursue a course in business administration at an Indian university. The admission is not only a boost to her academic credentials; it is also an escape from the approaching uncertainties of life in Kabul leading up to the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Lisa’s younger brother has also enrolled himself in India for an undergraduate course, not taking the risk of staying in a country where the future is increasingly hazy. This anxiety is also uppermost in the minds of Tariq Saedy and Parvin Pouran, who are pursuing their masters in Delhi, and who have not visited their homeland for the past year and a half.

When Afghan President Hamid Karzai paid his 20th visit to Islamabad earlier this week, he was carrying the concerns and anxieties of all these youngsters who fear a return of the conditions that prevailed in the country in the 1990s if the Taliban is not brought to the negotiating table. One of the president’s principal tasks was to seek Islamabad’s support in engaging the Taliban in peace talks. Kabul strongly believes that if its Islamic neighbor extends a helping hand, then the insurgent group can be convinced to cease its violent activities in Afghanistan and take part in the mainstream political process.

But The Washington Post notes that the visit “ended in muted disappointment Tuesday, with no agreements or specific statements on the key issues of Taliban peace talks, prisoner releases or insurgent sanctuaries.”

The Post continues: “Even though the visit was extended by one day and concluded with lunch in a breezy hilltop resort town overlooking Islamabad, the capital, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other Pakistani officials made no public offers to help restart talks with the Taliban or to release any Taliban prisoners.”

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However, Pakistan did offer economic assistance to its neighbor in rebuilding the country. Many analysts believe that Sharif cannot do much to bail out Karzai and that the real power lies at Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi, which many believe exerts influence over the Taliban. Experts believe that the Taliban is the Pakistani army’s biggest leverage in the landlocked country, providing an advantage against India’s growing engagement and influence in Afghanistan.

Wahid Mozhdah, a political analyst and former Taliban official working in the foreign ministry at the time of the Taliban rule, told The Diplomat, “The problem is that Afghanistan’s expectations are higher than Pakistan’s ability to deliver. Had Islamabad been really powerful and in control of the Taliban it could have solved its own internal problems and contained the growing menace of insurgencies in its own country.”

But Habib Khan Totakhil, a journalist and political expert, thinks otherwise. He expressed doubts about the Islamabad’s intentions in Kabul, telling The Diplomat, “Many in Afghanistan doubt Pakistan's intentions. It has never taken any concrete steps to advance the cause of peace in Afghanistan. Islamabad is playing a double game in our country and Karzai’s visit has further reinforced this perception.”

He added that “the Islamic neighbor has always sought strategic depth in Afghanistan, which simply means interfering in Afghanistan. Islamabad has always looked for excuses to meddle with the internal affairs of the war-torn country.”

Mozhdah offers another perspective. “The Taliban wants to talk to the U.S. If Washington commits to leaving Kabul by 2014 it is only then that the insurgent group is willing to engage the Afghan regime in talks. But America is playing a game. It wants to divide the Taliban into moderates and hardliners and has failed to honor its words given to Taliban in Oslo that they can have their own flags in their Qatari office. Therefore, the problem in the peace process is not Pakistan. The problem is the U.S.”

But the situation is larger than these three countries. Taking a wider regional perspective, some experts believe that India should also demonstrate a larger vision in stabilizing Afghanistan by taking into account Pakistan’s genuine insecurity and concerns in its neighborhood.

Christophe Jaffrelot wrote an opinion piece in The Indian Express writes: “India could take some initiative. To start with, it might want to throw its weight behind a genuine intra-Afghan dialogue. It is time the Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns engaged with each other with an open mind and spoke in a unified voice.”

He continues: “India should support the Sharif-Karzai dialogue. It should also break its silence on the Durand Line issue and encourage talks. Though not in Kabul's interests in the short run, a territorially secure Pakistan would be in the region's interest in the long run.”

But overwhelming opinion in Afghanistan speaks against any engagement with Pakistan or giving Islamabad any opportunity to interfere in the internal affairs of the country.

“We don't trust Pakistan at all. It is always playing games in Afghanistan,” Kabul-based BBC journalist Bahar Joya told The Diplomat. “On one hand, Islamabad says it is against the Taliban and is a victim of terrorism. But unofficially it keeps supporting the Taliban.”

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Joya added, “Afghan officials understand this duplicity. Pakistan’s role is very important in bringing peace to our country but it does not want to see a peaceful Afghanistan. The Taliban listens to people in Rawalpindi.”

A similar opinion is expressed by Heleena Kakar, a women’s rights activist and publisher of the feminist magazine, Rudyard Weekly. She told The Diplomat that “Afghanistan should learn from its past experience and now even by mistake it shouldn't give a single chance to Pakistan to have any say in Kabul.”

What if there are no talks with the Taliban? What will happen if international troops withdraw from Afghanistan?

Totakhil is not worried. He says that “the Taliban have already lost support among Afghans and the majority support of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). There is a huge difference between the 1990s and now.”

He continued, “Back then the entire world was with Mujahideen and former President Najibullah was alone. The situation is different this time. The world will support any elected government that comes to power after the 2014 elections. Besides, the strategic pacts with the U.S., India and other powerful countries also ensure the future of Afghanistan.”

This debate in Afghanistan is ongoing and so is the fear and concern of individuals like Lisa Kakar, Tariq Saedy, Parvin Pouran, and many other youngsters who are leaving the country in droves to look for a secured future. They want to be the stakeholders in their country’s future but not at the cost of their lives.

Saedy asks: “Why should I endanger my life and my family’s by living in a situation where there is no security?”