According to a report in this newspaper yesterday, a security official has claimed that “preliminary contacts have been established with Siraj Haqqani and other leaders of his group through intermediaries in a bid to engineer a rapprochement with the Karzai administration”. Could this be true? There are several reasons to suggest that it is premature at best, or perhaps an attempt by Pakistani officials to counter the recent, negative comments emanating from certain Afghan quarters. Some context here is essential. The overarching theme in Afghanistan at the moment is confusion.
The Americans are publicly sticking with Gen McChrystal’s plan of denting the Taliban resistance before initiating any process of ‘reconciliation’ that will shape the post-American future of Afghanistan. However, the McChrystal plan’s first phase — denting the Taliban’s resistance — is by all accounts not going as the Americans hoped. Yet, in the absence of an alternative plan and the American resistance thus far to change course, strategic confusion has set in. Some of the other players in Afghanistan are pushing to initiate the process of reconciliation with the Taliban now, while the Americans are digging in their heels. The terribly unsettling fact is that no one seems to know what direction Afghanistan is headed in.
Enter the Pakistani official’s comments about there being a “possible roadmap for a political settlement between Kabul and the Haqqanis”. To be sure, Pakistan is eager to have a seat at the table at which the future of Afghanistan is to be determined. If that means acting as an intermediary with certain militants groups, then that too is likely to be tried. However, there are at least two problems in the context of the Haqqani group. One, and this is a problem for the Pakistan Army, the Americans have shown no interest in initiating a process of reconciliation at the moment and therefore are very unlikely to have approached Pakistan to play a role. Two, it seems unlikely that the Haqqani network will engage in any manner of talks, even with an Afghan such as Hamid Karzai, without the blessing of Mullah Omar. While the Haqqani network is largely autonomous operationally in the parts of Afghanistan under its control, it continues to take its strategic cues from Mullah Omar. Any sort of ‘independent’ deal, then, is unlikely.
The best course of action for Pakistan is the same as it has been for years now: secure Fata. That is the paramount national security aim for Pakistan, and whatever the goings-on in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army must not lose sight of that fact. Prematurely focusing on Afghan solutions will only extend the problems inside Pakistan.