Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Diplomats like to stress that Afghanistan is not a zero-sum game, that if only the many regional players — including Pakistan and India – can settle their differences, they can find common cause in seeking a political settlement that will offer stability. That view comes complete with an appealing historical template – the British in India were able to extricate themselves from their failed Afghan wars in the 19th century in part because they agreed with Tsarist Russia that Afghanistan should be allowed to remain neutral.
Yet in the feverishness of the 21st century Afghan war, the perception (right or wrong) of a likely early American disengagement may be encouraging more, rather than less, zero-sum gamesmanship. The danger then is that far from moving towards a settlement for Afghanistan, regional players back different sides in the Afghan conflict, leading to de facto partition and renewed civil war.
With India now convinced Pakistan is pushing for a political settlement in Afghanistan which could return its former Taliban allies to power in Kabul, New Delhi in turn has renewed a drive to work with Iran to offset Pakistani influence there.
“I would today reiterate the need for structured, systematic and regular consultations with Iran on the situation in Afghanistan,” Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said in a speech this week to Indian and Iranian think tanks, posted on the Ministry of External Affairs website.
Nearly a week after suicide bombers attacked one of Pakistan’s most popular shrines in Lahore, it remains unclear how the country should, and indeed will, respond to a fresh wave of attacks in its heartland Punjab province.
The government has announced plans to hold a national conference on ways to combat terrorism to try to limit the political bickering which erupted between the federal government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Punjab provincial government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif over who was to blame.