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By proxy


By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times , July 26, 2013


Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai reacted with an extremely measured and conditional response to Pakistan's invitation for a visit to Islamabad. That was not unexpected.

A day after Pakistan's national security and foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz delivered in person the invitation from the new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Afghan president practically accepted the invitation in a statement on July 22 in Kabul, but with a caveat - a high level Afghan delegation could visit Pakistan only when a "serious and effective struggle against terrorism and the peace process are on the top of the agenda." 

The statement called for solid groundwork ahead of the visit. This predication underscored the suspicions and mistrust that continues to keep the bilateral relationship on tenterhooks.

Ironically, much before Aziz's preparatory visit for highest-level exchanges, the Kabul administration had itself raised issues and vitiated the air when Karzai's chief of staff Karim Khorram claimed the Taliban office in Doha was part of a plot to break Afghanistan, orchestrated by either Pakistan or the United States.

As a matter of fact, this insinuation stemmed from a "twisted" conversation that the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad had with Aziz. 

During the brief Kabul visit, Sartaj Aziz also rejected perceptions held by many in Afghanistan that Pakistan controls the Taliban, saying only that "we have some contacts" with the militia.

"We cannot guarantee the success of the peace process. It is the duty of the stakeholders in Afghanistan to undertake an Afghan-led peace process. We will only play facilitation roles that we are asked to play. We will not initiate or impose any solution nor make any concrete proposal. We will only facilitate the inter-dialogue," said Mr Aziz, resonating what the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had said at a press conference in the first week of July. For peace and sustainable stability in the region, it is imperative that Afghanistan receives serious and honest cooperation from Pakistan, Rasumussen said, underscoring that the political process is Afghan-led.

This makes perfect sense. As Afghanistan's next door neigbour Pakistan bears considerable responsibility for facilitating peace. But one wonders whether given the current state of uncertainty (the quest for realignments among various stakeholders in Afghanistan ahead of the presidential election and the planned bulk withdrawal of US-led forces by December 2014) makes things any easier for an embattled Pakistan. Fears of its "hegemonic designs" through Taliban proxies accompanying the expectations for unquestioned cooperation seem to stretch beyond realism.

Kabul's response to Sartaj Aziz's visit must be seen in the context of an internationally popular narrative on Pakistan which runs like this: Pakistan faces its Armageddon because of the groups it raised, nurtured, and supported for geo-political objectives in India and Afghanistan. With the passage of time these groups, led by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have upstaged the weak and porous state and operate at will. The Pakistani security apparatus maintains relations with some of the groups and is supporting them for its proxy war in Afghanistan and India.

The most alarming aspect of this narrative relates to the external factors. This narrative totally dismisses even the thought of possible involvement of India, Iran, Afghanistan, or the United States in the proxy war inside Pakistan, as part of a long-held conspiracy theory. Any suggestion that the Indian, Afghan or any other establishment may be doing to Pakistan what it did to the interests of these countries is met with instant scorn and laughed off. 

This narrative essentially denies notions of false flag operations, espionage missions and the globally acknowledged practice of proxy wars between or among hostile nations. For them Pakistan is the only bad player and all other victims of this war - including India and Afghanistan - are "helplessly watching" Pakistan undermine their interests.

The part of the narrative about Pakistan's own skewed policies premised on non-state actors remains a reality. State institutions as well as the society suffer as a direct consequence of reliance on religion as a motivational force and on non-state actors as a cost-effective first line of defence. The current mess - fractured relationships with the United States, India and Afghanistan as well as loss of trust among the international community - is a result of that policy.

And that complicates things for Pakistan. Straightening relations with India or Afghanistan is totally contingent upon whether Islamabad and Rawalpindi can demonstrate that they are moving on in deference to the reservations by other countries. Even a few sound administrative measures like putting a squeeze around the Afghan Taliban sheltering in Pakistan, or demobilizing the likes of Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar and their groups, could be the starting point.

Without this the external narrative on Pakistan is not likely to change. Regardless of whether Premier Sharif and President Karzai can exchange visits, the outsiders will not accept that Pakistan faces a proxy war. Nor will relations with India or Afghanistan come out of the current state of mistrust and jingoism.

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