Monday, April 18, 2011

Afghanistan - Pakistan talks. Reason for optimism?

I know I should know better, but the news that the Pakistanis and Afghans are talking separately, without the direct involvement of the Americans or [apparently] anyone else encourages me. What we know is that both governments are frustrated with the Americans. When both countries signal a desire to talk we wonder if they have reached a point of fatigue with the war and are ready address their concerns with a new seriousness. That key leaders of the Pakistani military are involved is significant, because we know they are disgusted with the Americans and trying to get them out. Can their talks with the Afghans indicate that they are fed up enough to curtail their support for the Taliban?

I would like to suppose that they are now trying to address certain inescapable realities: that the war benefits neither country while it nourishes radical elements that neither government can tolerate and at the same time prosper; also that opportunities await a time of peace, when the material benefits of strategic location and their respective resource bases could be realizes.

Years ago in a discussion among old hands at civil war elsewhere I heard someone say that such wars only end when everyone is tired of war and want to try something else. I would like to believe that both sides – even the Pakistanis, even the Taliban – would like to try something else. In the case of Afghanistan, war has been virtually continuous for two generations; in the case of Pakistan the practice of cultivating holy war fighters for a fruitless war against India has created an incendiary situation inside the country.

It may be wishful thinking, but I would like to hope so.

Below is a portion of the AP report on their meetings:

Pakistan says it firmly backs Taliban peace talks
By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Sat Apr 16, 1:31 pm ET
KABUL, Afghanistan – Pakistan stands strongly behind efforts to make peace with the Taliban and that while the U.S. will play a role in any reconciliation, Kabul should set the parameters for any talks to end the war, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani said Saturday.
At a news conference, Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said a new Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission comprising top-ranking officials is being set up to accelerate and promote a peace process.
Any solution to the war requires the support of Pakistan, and in particular elements of its security forces, which are believed to have links to insurgents in Afghanistan.
Gilani, army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and spy chief Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha and other officials flew to Kabul at a time when U.S. relations with both nations are deeply strained. Having the trio of Pakistan's power elite at the Afghan presidential palace at the same time underscored the importance of the daylong round of talks.
"We firmly believe that this process must have full Afghan ownership," Gilani said. "It is for the Afghan nation to determine the parameters on which a reconciliation and peace process would be shaped."
The U.S. backs reconciliation efforts, saying that it is willing to negotiate with members of the Taliban who renounce violence, sever ties with the al-Qaida terrorist network and accepts the Afghan constitution. It's unclear whether the U.S. currently sees these as preconditions to talks or desired outcomes. But Gilani said that "conditions, qualifications or demands at this stage, in our view, may not be helpful."
"Is the U.S. on board?" he asked, repeating a reporter's question. "Yes, the U.S. is on board and whatever will be decided will be decided between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States."
Gilani stressed solidarity between the two nations, which share a 1,500-mile (2,430-kilometer) border. He denied that Pakistan's tribal areas were a safe haven for terrorists — a frequent allegation made in both the U.S. and Afghanistan.
"We are fighting a war on terrorism," he said. "If there are military actions in our area, people they go to Afghanistan and if there is a military action by NATO forces, they come to Pakistan. Therefore, we should have more intelligence cooperation, more defense cooperation and more political cooperation."
"We must complement each other. ... There should be no blame game." …

[For the whole article click on the title above]

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