Pakistan sets ground rules for AfPak policy – by M K Bhadrakumar

Natural law brings AfPak crashing
By M K Bhadrakumar

Be it a baseball struck in a neighborhood sandlot game or in high-wire diplomacy, an elementary principle of physics holds good – what goes up must come down. In a way, the sheer dynamics of the nosedive of the United States’ AfPak diplomacy in the four weeks since the London conference on Afghanistan on January 28 can be attributed to gravitational pulls.

Earth’s gravity does not permit animated suspension, and US’s AfPak special representative Richard Holbrooke has found it difficult to keep up the entente cordiale worked out in the British capital. United States President Barack Obama may need to act faster than he would have thought.

The US’s AfPak special representative Richard Holbrooke has run into head wind almost simultaneously in four key capitals in and around the Hindu Kush – Islamabad, Kabul, Tehran and New Delhi.

Holbrooke no doubt achieved spectacular success in London, by rushing an agenda of “reintegration” and reconciliation of the Afghan Taliban through the assembled gathering of statesmen. The gathering included such inveterate critics of the doctrine of the “good Taliban” as India, China and Russia. But Holbrooke kept the lot together. That was probably the finest hour of AfPak diplomacy.

Pakistan sets ground rules
But did he force the pace? No sooner had the crowd dispersed from London, than AfPak diplomacy began unraveling. First, Pakistan went ahead and “captured” the Taliban’s deputy head Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The funny thing is that Baradar was shaping up as a key interlocutor for AfPak diplomacy. The Mullah or his men were darting in and out of the Persian Gulf oasis towns having secret rendezvous with American envoys. Call it Track II or whatever, but a track was being cleared for the US’s reconciliation with the Taliban’s Quetta shura – its top leadership organ.

Or, at least, that was how Washington assessed the situation. Of course, these goings on were completely in the know of Pakistan. But there was a crucial difference: they were not being conducted through Pakistani mediation. So, Pakistan just nabbed Baradar. The dilemma facing AfPak diplomacy today is: how do you negotiate when you don’t have an interlocutor? A kind of recess is developing in the AfPak diplomatic calendar.

Pakistan’s message is straightforward: any negotiations with the Taliban ought to be conducted through the proper channel, namely, Pakistan’s ISI. Actually, it is not too much to demand. Pakistan committed a great deal of resources to stop the Taliban disintegrating through some of their darkest days between 2001 and 2004. Islamabad cannot be expected to just roll over and let the Americans inherit the crown jewels (“strategic assets”) when the hour of glory is nearing.

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