The New Peacenik on the block – Pakistan?

The last two weeks seem to have delivered what the world had long been waiting for. Where the Iranian-US negotiations on the former’s (increasing and unregulated) nuclear might has been hailed as a diplomatic victory, the bailing-out of the fledgling Greek economy has come as a respite to many on the Dalal Streets across the world. Closer home in the South Asian region, the semblance of peace that was in the doldrums too was put on the track of settlement, or so did it seem to the world as the ‘talks’ between the Afghan Taliban and the National Unity Government (NUG) of Afghanistan could manage to get the quarreling sides on the same platform.

Over a one-odd sehri interaction that happened in the picturesque hill station of Murree, the ‘dialogue’ between the two factions rivaling for the political control of Afghanistan—their ‘legitimately chosen’ government on the one hand, and the Taliban on the other—has been seen as a step taken in the direction of peace and stability. Organized by the establishments in Pakistan involving the military and civil apparatuses alike, the conduct of these talks have been seen as a major break-through on a front that had been languishing for over a decade now—and which is peace and stability in Afghanistan.

While a day of interaction between the officials from both the sides did not throw much into the public domain to discuss and debate, but it did manage to fan the fire of speculation on where the road will lead from here. And while the world eagerly awaits these peace negotiations to happen as promised, however, not a lot can be said about it either for the sheer unpredictability that continues to shroud those on both the sides of the Durand Line. The dates for the peace-talks round one are not yet out, yet indications suggest that the second half of August 2015 would be the time when the process of reconciliation could finally be seen to hit the road. The will it-won’t it situation would continue to trouble those interested in the talks till then!

More than the meeting of the clarions, what has been depicted as an ever more compelling reason to cheer is the involvement of Pakistan in the process of peace that has unfolded since the last year. The involvement of Pakistan in the organization of the first ‘formal’ round of talks and its pro-active contribution to the conduct of the other informal negotiations in the past have been hailed as a positive change. Having provided material and moral support to the Taliban in the past, Pakistan’s success in ‘delivering’ the leaders of the political class of this group has been seen as a major turn-around. But, is it?

Beset with (proven) claims of double-dealings, the increasing interest and participation by Pakistan in the management of peace-negotiations for Afghanistan is not so much a summersault in the face of its strategic policies; rather it is an extension of it. In the want of creating a strategic depth for itself in Afghanistan, the strategic interests in Pakistan would desire a continuous presence in its neighbor’s domestic affairs, whether in peace or otherwise. As a result, the involvement of Pakistan in these negotiations comes as a logical expression of its national, strategic wants.

Also, it will not be imprudent to believe that its efforts to remain central to the ‘high-level politics’ in Afghanistan could be a result of what clearly is a cultural and popular preference for India among the Afghans. It is not hidden that the popular perception of Pakistan in Afghanistan at a broader level is that of a benefactor to those ‘elements’ that have wreaked destruction in the country for a good four-decades. In this light, to maintain an edge over its ‘rival’ by edging it out of the peace negotiations does not only appear to be a strategic win, but it also becomes a symbolic victory. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to surmise that the choice of dates for the talks, which are speculated to begin on the 15th of August, might have some symbolic innuendos to it.

The domestic security situation in Pakistan also alerts it to the necessity to be a part of the on-going and the forthcoming negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. While the Ghani-led government has been prudent in making Pakistan one of the stake-holders in the peace process, Pakistan’s intent on becoming a part of this process too had its part to play. Demonstrative of the idiom, ‘what you sow is what you shall reap’, the springing-up of deadly factions of the Taliban that are inward-looking have transformed a political movement for the other into trouble for oneself. Pakistan realizes that terror-outfits such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban that grew as an outgrowth of the original Taliban movement has come to bite its hands, and rather too fiercely. The Peshawar school attack that opened the New Year for Pakistan was a worrying reminder of what has gone wrong over the years.

The porosity of the Durand Line and the notoriety of the areas that surround it have made cross-border terrorism a worrying development for Pakistan now that it has come to affect it too. And while the Afghan Taliban and its Pakistan-based outgrowths might no longer be accountable to the same head, Pakistan does see the possibility of reigning-in on the latter by keeping the energies of the former engaged in the peace process and thus depriving its home-grown units of material and moral support.

Rising Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan has also had the Communist giant jittery. As an ‘all-weather ally’ of its, Pakistan finds itself under a compelling strategic pressure to assuage the Chinese by becoming invested in the peace process in Afghanistan more and more. While China too is doing its bit through its economic bids, the political aspect of the peace process has been left to the Pakistani establishments to handle. Finding itself as an observer in the peace process, the presence of China has certainly been able to keep the Pakistani efforts and interest from waning.

A combination of domestic, regional and international pressures have converged in Pakistan and transformed it into one of the important stakeholders in the process of reconciliation for peace and stability in Afghanistan. As the proposed time for the peace-talks near, it will be critical to see how and to what extent Pakistan would be able and willing to take it forward. The process would undeniably be long and its outcomes are far from the vision of posterity that we all possess. But, for now we can hope that this new peacenik will be here to stay.

Kutniti_author   Chayanika Saxena is a Research and Teaching Fellow at Ashoka University, India.

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