Pakistan doesn’t hold sway over the Taleban

0
46
Taleban

By Shahab Jafry

The Trump administration may be expecting too much of Islamabad in its bid to rein in the terror group. Hottest news in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) circles these days is that US President Donald Trump wants to talk to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. They gather this from Trump’s early January message that he was looking forward to meeting the new leadership of Pakistan soon. Quite typically, though, they seemed to have ignored the second half of the same sentence.

“We want to have a great relationship with Pakistan, but they house the enemy. They take care of the enemy. We just can’t do that,” he told his cabinet colleagues while explaining why exactly he pulled the plug on the billions in aid and military training that US has traditionally showered upon Pakistan. Not very flattering when you read the whole sentence, is it? Yet PTI says this is still a far better message than the January 1, 2018 broadside against Pakistan when Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) ran the show.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They have given safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” is how Trump greeted the previous New Year.

And, naturally, the ruling party’s spin attributes the change in sentiment, however measured, to Imran Khan’s rise to power. Turn the channel to state-run PTV (Pakistan Television) and you’ll begin thinking that Trump, like everybody else, has also come round to the realisation that Imran is the man to solve all the region’s problems. But they’re wrong. Washington’s only interest in Islamabad, since freezing all aid especially, stems from its frustration with the Taleban. It seems they have prepared everybody for ending the war and rolling out occupying troops.

Washington is ready, Kabul is game, and even all neighbouring countries are chipping in. Yet all that hits a brick wall because the Taleban are not quite convinced. And Trump, for some reason, feels Pakistan still has enough leverage over the Taleban to help seal the deal.

The situation on the ground, though, points in a very different direction. The Taleban have been gaining ground steadily for over a decade; to the point that their field commanders were upset with their political leaders for even considering an end to the insurgency.

“We stop now when we’re gaining ground?” went the straight forward logic, to which “Because we know we will never re-take Kabul, and now’s as good a time as any to negotiate since we have the initiative,” was the Taleban Qatar office’s reply.

But the Taleban accepted the offer of talks only on the condition that the government in Kabul is dissolved and replaced by an interim setup whose commanders would also include their representatives. And under no circumstances can President Ghani’s government, “a puppet regime,” be part of any process. That was the only reason for cancelling negotiations set for Riyadh in a few days. No points for guessing just how that would have been received in the presidential palace in Kabul. Ghani staked his re-election on bringing the Taleban to the table in time for the poll, which has just been postponed from April to June. Surely he didn’t mean the Taleban and the US at the table without him, or the government and new constitution, etc.

So if you can’t get the Taleban to sign, you just can’t end the insurgency. And let’s not forget that it is the guerillas that are gaining ground and influence. All this talk of talks has just given the Taleban precious airtime that they had been denied most of these past 17 years. Now the whole world knows that they have the mightiest superpower the world has ever seen on the back-foot. And who does it help eventually that Trump has telegraphed his decision to withdraw 7,000 US troops from the country?

Since this process – of determining just where these negotiations are headed – will not take too long to play out, let’s see how excited Trump remains to meet the Pakistani leadership. If nothing changes soon, the Taleban will continue taking ground, the government losing writ, influence and face, and the Americans having to cut and run sooner than later as their economy seems headed south with a vengeance yet again.

And where does that leave Pakistan? No doubt it will be blamed all over again. Unfortunately, that also limits any scope Islamabad has of ‘resetting the equation’, etc. with Washington. Then there’s the threat of Pakistan’s own insurgents being emboldened by a guerilla victory across the Durand Line (the 2,430-km border between Afghanistan and Pakistan).

Nobody thought it was possible. But Afghanistan’s rag tag militias – with a lot of help and weapons from a lot of friends, no doubt – are on the verge of sending yet another mighty army back with a bloody nose. —Khaleej Times

(Shahab Jafry is a senior journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan)

“We want to have a great relationship with Pakistan, but they house the enemy. They take care of the enemy. We just can’t do that,” he told his cabinet colleagues while explaining why exactly he pulled the plug on the billions in aid and military training that US has traditionally showered upon Pakistan. Not very flattering when you read the whole sentence, is it? Yet PTI says this is still a far better message than the January 1, 2018 broadside against Pakistan when Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) ran the show.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here