If you read all the commentary on the arrest by Pakistan of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar amongst others, there is a very clear distinction between the view from Kabul and the view from Islamabad about what is going on. That is not surprising given the deep distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but I’ve noticed it has become particularly acute over the last month or so. The main argument is whether the arrest of Mullah Baradar and others was meant to undermine a pro-talks faction and replace them with a harder line ISI-backed Taliban, or whether Pakistan is rounding them up in order to keep control over any negotiations on reconciliation with the Taliban. If the latter were true, it would be expecting the United States to address Pakistan’s own security interests, particularly in relation to India, in return for its help in tackling the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is making the first visit to Saudi Arabia by an Indian leader since 1982, seeking to build economic ties and to enlist the kingdom’s help in improving regional security. While much of the focus is likely to be on securing oil supplies for India’s growing economy, the visit is also part of the complex manoeuvres by regional players jostling for position on Afghanistan and beyond.
As discussed in my last post, the place to watch for developments on relations between India and Pakistan right now is more likely to be Kabul than Kashmir. That may have been graphically illustrated when Taliban fighters attacked Kabul on Friday, killing 16 people, including up to nine Indians.
The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, meeting in New Delhi to end a diplomatic freeze which followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, did what they were expected to do — laid out all the issues which divide the two countries and agreed to “keep in touch”.
Regular readers of this blog will know we have been talking for a long time about finding a regional solution to Afghanistan. The argument — much touted during President Barack Obama’s election campaign — was that you could stabilise the country if you persuaded the many regional players with a stake in Afghanistan — including Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia and China — to cooperate rather than compete in finding a political settlement to what was effectively an unwinnable war.
“Peace,” said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw ”is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous.” Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao begins that arduous process on Thursday when she meets her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir to try to break a diplomatic freeze that followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.
The idea of holding talks to resolve the many competing interests across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – which has most recently focused on whether the Afghan Taliban can be brought to the negotiating table – appears to be catching on.
The arrest of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi leaves big unanswered questions about why Pakistan chose to act now against a man credited with giving operational coherence to Afghan Taliban (or Quetta Shura Taliban) operations in Afghanistan.
Perhaps the most striking thing about a speech given by former president Pervez Musharraf in London on Monday was how many people turned out to hear him. There were two overflow rooms for those who wanted to hear his words relayed over closed-circuit television. I can’t think of many former rulers who can pack a crowd like that — although this was also a measure of the intense interest in London in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This weekend’s bombing which killed nine people in the Indian city of Pune — the first major attack since the 2008 assault on Mumbai — is unlikely to derail plans for the foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan to hold talks on Feb. 25.