In the maze of negativity generated post general elections in July, some good news has begun greeting us all; the British High Commissioner Thomas Drew and Robert Williams, the British Airways head of sales for the Asia Pacific and the Middle East have given us a cause to cheer; British Airways is coming back to Pakistan in June.
The airline had suspended its operations in September 2008 in the aftermath of the Marriott Hotel bombing that ( the author survived too along with so many others).
Members of recent delegations from various European countries as well as Australia and Americas, too, have articulated categorical commitment to continue working with Pakistan for a better future raised on reforms that PM Khan had been promising and is determined to implement. These reforms, one understands, are not only at the heart of negotiations with the IMF but most European countries wish that too. And here their desire converges with the PTI vision for a people-centric reform.
Accompanying this mellow mood are rare intense negotiations in UAE among US and Taliban (and presumably Pakistani) representatives for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Preceding this was a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan by President Trump, requesting facilitation for the process.
Pakistan agreed to do so, only if finger-pointing and the strident blame-game would stop. Pressure and request cannot go hand in hand, PM Khan had reportedly told Trump Special Envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Since the US foots the bill of the entire Afghan government, one message to the Americans was also to nudge the National Unity Government (NUG) towards a silent participation in the reconciliation process. President Ghani did publicly oppose direct US-Taliban talks but has since tagged along, despite his reservations. The nay-sayers around him, and perennial skeptics, who are also averse Another message out of Islamabad was the categorical support to the Moscow process, which for the first time brought Taliban representative Abbas Stanakzai face to face with Haji Deen Mohammad, the head of the Afghan High Peace Council – both shaking hands and sitting under one roof.
Pakistan’s facilitation – the release of three Mulla Omar companions – and a quiet discreet squeeze on their families and businesses interests – took the process a step further and hence the Doha/Abu Dhabi negoations.
Diplomats in Islamabad may call it “shift in gear,” or may even deride it as Pakistan’s U-turn, but what is wrong with this? Even President Trump u-turned when, following scathing attacks and foul-mouthing Pakistan, he eventually sent Khalilzad with the letter of request for help!
Lets get real; national interests define policies and in the political lexicon that is known as pragmatism, or realpolitik. But will this pragmatism burn Pakistan more than rehabilitate it as a fair stakeholder? Only time will tell.
The intricate nature of the Afghan imbroglio demands that both the US and Pakistan, as well as UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, guard against spoilers. And the recent history of proxy wars tells us that they abound all around in the Af-Pak region.
As Pakistan treads a critical path, supported by China and Russia too, all these countries need to stand by it as negotiations move forward. Proxies – direct or indirect – and their external handlers are already upset over the course of events since Khalilzad’s first visit to Islamabad several weeks ago.
The discomfort and acrimony is evident from the dismissive messaging via the various social media outlets. But our Afghan friends hopefully will understand that the international community’s financial and political support is not boundless. Sustaining that lifeline requires some tangible movement on ground. They can absorb negative narrative only to a certain limit and that they have done for nearly 18 years, with a fatigue quite visible. The discord is debilitating for the majority of people both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Reservations on some aspects of the radical Taliban are totally understandable. But they should also recall that political realism had helped the once most hunted terrorist Yasir Arafat into a Nobel Peace laureate. Something on the ground must change. Constructive approaches must give way to negativity if Afghanistan is to see an end to hostilities in favour of some semblance of normalcy. The mantra of dumping all evils in Afghanistan on Pakistan has outlived its utility. Beijing, Moscow and Ankara, as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE all seem to have finally understood Islamabad’s predicament. Others including the United States and friends in Kabul also need an empathetic, if not sympathetic, look into the suffering that Pakistani people have gone through, and the bulk of Afghans is living it daily – all because of geopolitical games.