Greater clarity needed on Pak`s Afghan role: US expert

Lisa Curtis insists that Islamabad cannot be allowed to play "spoiler".

Updated: Mar 26, 2011, 12:22 PM IST

Washington: Demanding greater clarity on Pakistan`s role in the Afghan conflict, an eminent US expert on South Asia on Saturday said a political process that ensures accountability is needed and that Islamabad cannot be allowed to play "spoiler".

"The US must shape a political environment in South Asia that is conducive to peace, stability, and robust US engagement, not cede the region to extremists who will harbour international terrorists, provoke Indo-Pakistani conflict, and
reverse the gains made in human development in Afghanistan over the last 10 years," said Lisa Curtis of The Heritage Foundation.

To achieve these objectives, the US needs to be the driving force behind any political settlement that involves talks with the Taliban, she argued, adding that the US has not invested 10 years of blood and treasure in Afghanistan to leave the country`s fate in the hands of the UN.

"We need greater clarity on Pakistan`s role in the Afghan conflict. On the one hand, it is widely accepted that Islamabad is playing a spoiler role by allowing the Taliban to maintain sanctuary on its territory," she said.

"On the other hand, Pakistani officials claim that they do not have full control over the Taliban and thus cannot be held responsible for the insurgency that still rages in Afghanistan.”

"But Pakistan cannot have its cake and eat it, too. Allowing the Pakistanis to play the spoiler in Afghanistan without receiving international pushback gives them too much power," she said.

Referring to the recently released Century Foundation International Task Force report titled `Afghanistan: Negotiating Peace`, she said it usefully sketches out the myriad issues surrounding the challenges of seeking an Afghan peace settlement involving the Taliban.

However, the report`s call for a "neutral international facilitator" harkens back to the 1990s, when the UN unsuccessfully sought to stitch together an Afghan peace agreement between the warring mujahideen factions.

"The UN proved no match for the well-armed and Pakistani-supported Taliban, who successfully captured Kabul in 1996 and ruled Afghanistan until the US-led invasion in 2001," Curtis said.

She said a hard-nosed analysis of the Taliban`s military capabilities, relationship to other lethal extremist groups in the region, and continued sanctuary in Pakistan reveals that the US must be the leading force behind any effort to reconcile the Taliban.

Rather than viewing a political strategy in Afghanistan as merely part of an exit strategy, the US should view it as a way to capitalise on military gains and focus on achieving a political outcome that ensures that vital US national security interests are protected over the long-term, Curtis said.

"US policymakers should also be prepared to accept the possibility that the Taliban may be unwilling to make political compromises or break its ties to al Qaeda, which would render the idea of reconciliation with the Taliban unworkable," she said.