‘Pakistan to remain aligned with Afghan Pashtuns’



Islamabad: Pakistan's strategic planners have decided in principle to remain closely aligned with Afghan Pashtuns instead of seeking new allies in Afghanistan ahead of the drawdown of foreign forces in the war-torn country, according to a media report today.

"Retaining ties with the Pashtuns is a crucial security imperative for us," a senior unnamed Pakistani official was quoted as saying by the Dawn ahead of Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul's visit to Islamabad today to discuss various possibilities with Pakistani leaders on furthering the peace and reconciliation political process in Afghanistan.

"It appears as if everyone's rushing to the exit and, therefore, we need to play our cards wisely to protect our own interests and pre-empt the 1989-like situation," the official was quoted as saying.

Other proposals being pushed by Pakistan include a ceasefire as a confidence-building measure for the political process and holding the 2014 presidential elections as part of reconciliation.

Earlier this month, Pakistan released 12 to 14 mid-ranking Afghan Taliban detainees during a visit to Islamabad by the Afghan High Peace Council to show its commitment to the reconciliation process.

Islamabad's critics, however, pointed out that it had not released any of the top Aghan Taliban commanders in its custody, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Pakistani think-tanks have projected several scenarios about post-2014 Afghanistan, though the only one that suits Islamabad is a "successful reconciliation process", the report said.

Decision-makers fear that Pakistan would have to bear the fallout of instability in Afghanistan, including a likely influx of refugees, continued violence in the country, particularly the tribal areas, and aggravation of economic conditions.

"The cost of non-settlement of the Afghan problem and the resultant chaos there would be too high a price for us," the official said.

Pakistan tried for a couple of years to reach out to elements of the Northern Alliance, but with "limited success because of deep-seated mistrust on both sides", the report said.

"They (non-Pashtun elements, who have traditionally been Pakistan's political rivals in Afghanistan) are not forthcoming, they aren't flexible," the official said in reply to a question about the outcome of Pakistan’s efforts to mend fences with them.

The insistence by non-Pashtun Afghans on conditions about accepting the Afghan Constitution and renunciation of violence is being seen by Pakistan as "an attempt to keep the Taliban, who are opposed to pre-conditions, out of the reconciliation process", the report said.

Former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar had earlier this month told the Senate's defence committee that the best bet for Pakistan is to allow the Afghan people to decide their future by themselves.

He had advised against continuing the old approach of hoping for a "friendly government" in Kabul. While Pakistan still hopes for a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, hopes for any progress on the pact are low.

"The Afghans aren't enthusiastic about it," the Pakistani official said, dispelling the impression that the two sides were on the verge of beginning negotiations on the agreement.

PTI