Peace panel has its first meeting
Afghanistan-Pakistan group seeking stability faces hurdles
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A joint Afghanistan-Pakistan peace commission met for the first time Saturday, an initiative to try to settle the near-decade-long insurgency in Afghanistan. But analysts are skeptical of results from the unwieldy body, and the process is further undermined by Washington’s opaque position on negotiations.
The centerpiece of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s two-day visit to Islamabad, which ended Saturday, was the first meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission for Reconciliation and Peace in Afghanistan, a bilateral body trumpeted by both sides as a major step toward stabilizing Afghanistan. Washington says it supports the bilateral initiative.
However, the Taliban already have rejected Karzai’s High Peace Council, which preceded this bilateral forum, while there appears little incentive for Pakistan to use its leverage over the leaders of the Afghan insurgency. Also uncertain is whether the U.S. wants to fight the Taliban or make peace with them, while Islamabad fears that without the pressure from the insurgents, elements hostile to Pakistan will ascend to power in Kabul.
The leadership of the Taliban and their ally, the Haqqani network, are believed by Kabul and Washington to be in Pakistan, giving Islamabad potentially decisive sway over the insurgent top command. Pakistani officials are receiving mixed messages from Washington, with a demand to kill or capture Taliban leader Mullah Omar, while at the same time American officials are engaging in talks with Omar’s envoys.
Karzai’s trip to Islamabad coincided with a visit by CIA Director Leon Panetta, who is thought to have pressed the Pakistani military to eliminate the Afghan insurgents on its soil, specifically Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, the military commander of the Haqqani network. Reports said that Panetta confronted the Pakistan military with evidence that it continues to protect elements of the Afghan insurgency.
Pakistan has forced a drastic reduction in U.S. military personnel present in the country, against loud protests from Washington.
“It is inconceivable for Mullah Omar to enter into talks in the current circumstances,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Kabul. “There are 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. It is run by a cabinet composed of foreign nationals. His own people would lynch him.
“As long as they stick to cliches like (the Taliban having to) accept the Afghan parliament and constitution, there will be no progress,” Mohmand said.
The U.S. has stated that 2014 will be the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, but Washington is negotiating a “strategic partnership” that will keep a smaller number of American soldiers in the country beyond that date.
Mohmand said that while the leadership of the Taliban remain on United Nations blacklists, its members are still in prison in Afghanistan, and American troops plan to remain in the country indefinitely, then meaningful negotiations are unlikely. He also said that the Afghanistan-Pakistan joint commission contains high-ranking officials who could not undertake covert talks with the Taliban.