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With Mattis comes another Afghan proposal

Another Afghan proposal

  • As Mattis arrives

Once again Kabul is ‘ready for government to government talks’ with Islamabad while remaining ‘committed as a partner to counter terrorist threats in the region’. This initiative, after so many stops and starts, no doubt comes in the backdrop of US Defence Secretary James Mattis’ coming visit to Pakistan. And even though the Americans are clearly waiting till the meeting today to spell out their strategy regarding Pakistan, there is enough in the chatter so far for Islamabad to have done its homework. It seems the Trump Administration wants to combine its troop surge with a sandwich operation, of sorts, along the Durand Line – where Pakistani forces will also, most probably, be asked to engage. The ‘do more’, therefore, might yet get more inflated.

Washington continues to think beating the Taliban on the field is the only way of arm twisting them into talks. Pakistan, on the other hand, is still advocating engaging whichever Taliban groups are willing to talk while fighting the rest. Kabul, no doubt, agrees with the Americans. This is usually where these negotiations hit a brick wall. Islamabad’s position is not made any easier by the assessment of Gen John Nicholson – the top US commander in Afghanistan – that Pakistan’s attitude has not changed.

If the government does not play its cards right this time, it risks being sidelined from the Afghan process altogether. And since Pak-Afghan insurgencies are interrelated – not the least because our own Taliban have found sanctuary in Afghanistan – isolation at this point will hurt our war effort in no small way. Plus, our ties with America do not just revolve around the Afghan factor, though it has become central in recent years. We also rely on US largesse, or goodwill, for direct and IFI funding that is the life and blood of our stagnant economy.

Our operations against terrorists have yielded some very positive results, which should be shared with our allies to satisfy any lingering concerns about havens and hideouts. Then, of course, we must also press our own demands about TTP in Afghanistan. And the hide and seek that has marred the Pak-US-Afghan triangle for so many years must now end.

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