Published in Hard News

Af-Pak: End this End Game

6 September 2012

Published last month here

Pakistan will have to focus on bilateral trust building: with US, Afghanistan and India. This sounds daunting but there is no alternative to stronger diplomatic engagement

A day’s visit to Kabul is hardly sufficient to make an informed comment on the status of the Afghanistan imbroglio. The unfortunate term ‘end game’ implies that for much of the world and regional powers it is all about carving zones of influence in post-Nato Afghanistan. The US wants to exit but is mulling over a partial presence. India wants to consolidate its partnership with the Afghan government and people. Iran has its concerns based on the Sunni strands of extremism. The Central Asian states want to profit from the new arrangements. And, Pakistan, the vital player in the region, wants to ensure that the future Afghan government is not hostile. Above all, it is concerned about being ‘encircled’ by India on its eastern and western borders.

Pakistan, due to its peculiar history and irreversible geography, holds the critical cards in the future process. How far does it have leverage over the Taliban groups is a matter of debate. The country’s detractors say that Pakistan’s influence with the Taliban groups is a stumbling block in holding direct negotiations with the Taliban groups that the US has initiated and wants the Afghan government to extend and deepen this process in the months to come.

There is another view that despite the contacts, Pakistan does not control groups such as the ‘Haqqani network’ and if it pushes them to the wall they could very well turn against Pakistan itself. There are also views on the perceived power of the groups, such as the Quetta Shura, which allegedly operates from Pakistan.

The ‘gaming’ on Afghanistan has generated narratives on all sides. Afghan public opinion is sceptical of Pakistan. The US/NATO narrative is growing resentful of Pakistan’s policies. And within Pakistan, growing anti-Americanism and a particular populist understanding of history have led to paranoia about US intentions towards Pakistan. More worryingly from the Pakistani State’s perspective, the emerging US-India-Afghanistan axis mediated through strategic pacts, aid, relations with the leaders of non-Pashtun Afghan population, among others, are factors which pose a ‘strategic’ threat.   (more…)