Pakistan: ‘We are part of the solution in Afghanistan’

Islamabad flexes its muscles across the border to influence decision-making in Kabul.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani couldn’t have been more blunt when he said a few weeks ago that: “Nothing can happen in Afghan peace talks with the Taliban without us. We are part of the solution. We are not part of the problem.”

For some in Afghanistan, however, Pakistan is a part of the problem – blocking any attempt to find a political solution to the conflict that doesn’t secure its strategic interests at home.

Last February, I was in Kabul when news of the arrest of the Taliban’s Mullah Brader emerged. Second-in-command only to the Afghan Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, his capture in the Pakistani city of Karachi was described as a success.

In Afghanistan, government sources told us that it was a setback to peace efforts.

Mullah Brader was reportedly involved in secret negotiations with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, albeit without Pakistan’s consent. His arrest was a clear message from Islamabad.

Pakistan’s chief of the army General Kayani has since made several visits to the Afghan capital, meeting Karzai and other officials.

“Kayani wanted to tell the Afghans that whatever is the end game, Pakistan wants to be part of it,” Mosharaf Zaidi, a Pakistani analyst, told me.

“Kayani wanted to allay their fears and told them that Pakistan will not pursue an ethnicity based solution in Kabul and won’t blindly support one group, in reference to the Pashtuns. Since then you saw important decisions taken.”

Kabul announced what some called the forced resignations of interior minister Atmar and the head of the intelligence agency Amrullah Saleh over their failure to protect a peace jirga meeting.

“That decision was driven by Pakistan sensitivities over the role these individuals played in Afghan-Pakistani relations,” Zaidi said.

Saleh was the most outspoken critic of Pakistani policies and has made strong accusations against the ISI – Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

 “There are training camps in Pakistan … they send insurgents to Afghanistan – every case related to terrorism and violence in Afghanistan that we have investigated over the past six years or are currently investigating is somehow linked to Pakistan,” Saleh told me in September 2008.

“One of the masterminds of the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul … he lives in an area of Pakistan and whose arrest you don’t need military force … you just need two security agents. They know who he is but they haven’t done anything about it.”

Not doing anything about the groups fighting in Afghanistan has been a major concern for Washington which has been pressuring the Pakistan military to launch an operation in the North Waziristan region.

The Haqqani network is believed to be based there – a group Kabul has accused of being behind the most sophisticated strikes in Afghanistan and is said by some to be Islamabad’s proxy.

Undoubtedly Pakistan wants to ensure a friendly government is in place in Kabul that would prevent India from gaining a strong foothold in their neighbour.

The war there doesn’t recognise borders. A more comprehensive approach is needed to deal with that conflict and many observers in Islamabad are saying that Pakistan is now satisfied that it secured a seat on the table of discussions about what is now being called the “Afghan transition process”.

And that would have been high on the agenda of Gilani’s talks in Kabul.

Karzai has developed a good relationship with Pakistan’s civilian leadership since the former president Pervez Musharraf left office. But the Afghan president has still to forge a relationship based on trust with the Pakistani army and ISI – the key decision-makers in this country.

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