Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Over a five year period of engagement, the United States gained little while the Taliban grew even more radicalised and the threat from al Qaeda more serious. Rubin details how State Department officials were repeatedly misled by Taliban officials harbouring bin Laden even after two U.S. embassies were attacked in Africa in  1998.  They even told them they would protect the Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were subsequently destroyed.

"The Taliban had like many rogue regimes, acted in bad faith.  They had engaged not to compromise, but to buy time. They had made many promises, but did not keep a single one. The Taliban refused to isolate, let alone, expel Bin Laden , and al Qaeda metastasized," says Rubin. The Sept 11 attacks were plotted at a time when U.S. engagement with the Taliban was in full swing. 

Kashmir cools off, but peace still distant

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With the world’s attention focused on the hunt for al Qaeda and the Taliban along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, the 19-year conflict in Kashmir to its east has slipped off the radar.
 
But Kashmir, which former U.S. President Bill Clinton once said was one of the most dangerous places on earth, has just crossed a milestone with the number of people dying in the fighting falling below 1,000 a year.

Seen purely in terms of fatalities, Kashmir is now classed as a “low-intensity conflict” says the New Delhi-based Institute for  Conflict Management which tracks deaths due to militant-related violence across South Asia.
 
Last year was a watershed for Kashmir when the number of civilians, securitymen and militants killed in the conflict fell to 777, down from a high of 4,507 in 2001. The decreasing  trend continues this year with 192 people killed until May.
 
Just to put things in perspective, the comparable figure for Iraq was 13,600 according to the latest U.S. State Department’s annual terrorism report released last month, about 6,000 for Afghanistan and 4,000 in Sri Lanka’s civil war according to Reuters reporters in the two countries.
 
So is peace at hand in Kashmir and has the  stage been set for a “grand reconciliation” that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke about after talks with his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee in Islamabad last week ?
 
Not quite. The talks, resuming after a year because of political crises in Pakistan, themselves did not throw up any new ideas, much less suggest a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Indeed if anything Pakistan’s new leaders are calling a set of “out-of-the box” proposals that President Pervez Musharraf made as ‘half-baked.”"

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