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SPA with Afghanistan: Panacea for Peace?


By Imtiaz Gul

 Weekly Pulse ,Dec 14, 2012


A number of Pakistani and Afghan members of parliament and civil society recently got together in Islamabad as part of an Afghanistan-Pakistan Track Two dialogue. Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung is the driving spirit behind these consultations with a view to promoting understanding between the two countries and helping to minimize the mutual mistrust. Despite relatively free conversation and the emergence of certain points of collaboration, such as cooperation in education, agriculture, trade, both sides agreed to promote linkages between the two parliaments and political parties in the two countries as the pivotal forces for reducing tensions, damage control in explosive situations, and promoting a dispassionate dialogue on all contentious issues. 
Strangely, despite all the goodwill created by these consultations, the last day saw mistrust, misgivings and decades’ old narratives, largely defined by respective security establishments take the centre-stage. It also made it clear that to rub-off these deep seated issues, continuous political and civil society dialogue, supported by the media, is the only way to transition from animosity and misgiving to a friction-free and collaborative engagement. 
These consultations took place in the context of Pakistan having offered a strategic partnership agreements (SPA) to Afghanistan. India and the United States did it in October and May, respectively, last year. Paranoid over the expanding Indo-Afghan-American nexus, Pakistan now follows in their footstep by offering its version of SPA to Afghanistan, hoping it could: 

a) Offset the creeping Indian influence in Afghanistan; 
b) provide Pakistan greater proximity to the Afghan security establishment, and; 
c) pave way for broad-based economic linkages that would serve as a potential barrier to the occasional breakdown in relations because of one or the other factors such as allegations of Pakistan links to acts of terrorism inside Afghanistan 
The SPA, we understand, was handed to the Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool on Nov 30 at Islamabad. It is subject to amendments/counter-proposals. The idea of signing a Pak-Afghan SPA was endorsed at the 2nd Pak-Afgh-UK Trilateral Meeting in New York in late September, where British premier announced both sides will sign it. Afghans also agreed, but this annoyed certain lobbies in Kabul and when Karzai returned to Kabul, the air was already bad/vitiated so he tried to wriggle out of the commitment by making it conditional to “fulfillment of certain conditions by Pakistan.” 
Zalmay Rasool himself raised the SPA issue during his Islamabad visit late November and Pakistan said it was ready to offer the SPA, but without any preconditions. Rasool remained non-committed and promised to get back to Islamabad soon.

Pakistan hopes that the release of about a dozen low-ranking Taliban prisoners mid November (following the visit of Sallahuddin Rabbani, the head of the High Peace Council -HPC) and Rasool’s visit will help in creating conducive conditions for SPA. Pakistan is likely to release more prisoners in small batches in the coming weeks, though not Mulla Birader. He probably would be the last one to get out of jail. Diplomatic sources say that Islamabad has also promised “safe passage” to potential Afghan Taliban negotiators and asked Rasool for the list of such NEGOTIATORS, assuring Pakistani commitment to support reconciliation in whatever way possible. This readiness appears to have been driven by the potentially grave consequences of the Afghan political transition (presidential election Spring 2012) and the security transition (Dec 2012 NATO pullout). Instability, factional war, and exodus to Pakistan of populations from potential war-zones in Afghanistan are some of the fears that have begun to haunt officials in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

The draft strategic partnership agreement (SPA) essentially encapsulates statements/ proposals and offers that Pakistan government and military have been making from time to time in the last decade or so.

The draft SPA mainly comprises sections on political, security, and economic cooperation.

The segment on political cooperation promises continued exchanges of ministerial delegations, commitments to cooperation with the High Peace Council (HPC) and support for the HPC-led Reconciliation Process and voluntary return of refugees.

The Security Cooperation promises, as expected, focus on cooperation against terrorism and religious extremism, training and equipment/ capacity-building support by Pakistan for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and mutual intelligence information sharing.

One hopes that the SPA also binds both countries not to allow their respective territory be used by non-state actors against each other -- something that must be an automatic preamble to any strategic partnership. Such an undertaking also marks the much needed precursor to restoring mutual trust.

Joint anti-terrorism and counter-narcotics strategies, it appears, are also part of the SPA that Pakistan has offered. Events of the past decade indicate that one or two countries alone cannot cope with the threats that stem from non-state, trans-national militant groups. Nor can they deal with the drugs’ mafia in isolation because this, too, is a trans-border issue and feeds off instability and corruption in the country of origin as well as the transit regions.

That is why it has told all Afghan factions that “we have no favourites.” Afghan opposition also welcomed it in bilateral contacts, and all have also said “we don’t consider Durand Line as an issue, for us this is the Border”.

Pakistan must be relieved over this fact because if non-Pashtun Afghans say so, this means the Durand Line becomes the issue of Afghan Pashtun nationalists only.

Pakistan is also assessing whether Kabul is in a position to:

a) Point out the right people for the reconciliation talks;

b) Whether it can keep track of released prisoners and see whether they are helpful in talks or go back to combat (because it becomes another problem for Pakistan if these guys go back to fight rather than help the reconciliation process (Pakistan has often complained that Afghan prisoners it hands over to Afghan authorities are often set free without due process of law).

Afghans still seem to be confused or indecisive, probably under the influence of the multiple vested interests that a decade of war has generated. They told Pakistan they want Saudi Arabian role in reconciliation, rather than Qatar’s. But Saudis are reluctant for three reasons:

a) Karzai has no roadmap for reconciliation;

b) No incentive for Taliban to give up armed struggle (Karzai and US insistence on Taliban accepting constitution, renouncing violence, and disconnecting from Al Qaeda);

c) Saudi authorities have no contact with or influence over Mulla Omar (who had in 1995/96 snubbed Prince Turki over the handover of bin Laden).

One would hope that both Track 1 and Track 11 supplement each other and create an enabling environment for the SPA between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This agreement essentially addresses almost all those issues that keep emerging every now and then. Critical, said many observers, however will be the two security establishments who still dominate the Pakistani and Afghan narratives about each other. Taking the sting out of these narratives requires continued intensive engagement, particularly among the civilian stakeholders, who can help review or redefine views and clichés about each other.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk