SO then, 53 “carefully selected” and “chosen carefully Pakistani foreign policy elite” — retired civilian and military officials, analysts, journalists and civil society practitioners — with established expertise on Afghanistan and/or with knowledge of the modalities of policymaking in the US were gathered together.
They came together at different dates and times, in big groups and small in Islamabad and Peshawar, under the joint aegis of the Jinnah Institute, Islamabad and the United States Institute for Peace, Washington D.C.
Their “perceptions” were then “captured” for the report “aimed at better comprehending Pakistan’s outlook on the situation in Afghanistan”, and which has recently been let loose upon an unsuspecting world.
The report is copious but to start:
“Pakistani foreign policy elite [I kid you not] believe that only a truly inclusive government in Kabul can usher in an era of relatively efficient and stable governance in Afghanistan. Most participants defined this as a politically negotiated configuration with adequate Pakhtun representation that is recognised by all ethnic and political stakeholders in Afghanistan.
“While far from a consensus, some opinion-makers insisted that given the current situation, a sustainable arrangement would necessarily require the main Taliban factions — particularly Mullah Omar’s ‘Quetta Shura’ Taliban, and the Haqqani network — to be part of the new political arrangement. Specifically, a decentralised system of governance is more likely to be sustainable than an overly centralised one. Such an inclusive dispensation, it is believed, will view the relationship with Islamabad favourably and be sensitive to Pakistani concerns.”
Really now? So there is, after all, a Quetta Shura of the Taliban, what? Now, which of the ‘foreign policy elites’ has opened this particular can of worms please? Well, good and well as my friend Ashraf Afridi used to say, for prior to this there were stout denials from the security establishment and its handmaidens with only some non-foreign policy elites such as yours truly saying repeatedly that there was a Quetta Shura as large as death itself in Quetta.
It is also true then that President Karzai and his former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, the most hated of those that matter in the Land of the Pure, were always right when they said that the top leadership of the Taliban were headquartered in Quetta, one of Pakistan’s largest, most important cantonments? As were the Americans, who repeatedly said that the Quetta Shura was alive and kicking and should be apprehended to loud and cacophonic cries of ‘Israeli/Indian/US conspiracy’ against the Citadel of Islam.
And this despite Baloch politicians such as Hasil Bizenjo saying on record that the people of Quetta (and by extension Balochistan) were at the mercy of these terrorists. Indeed, despite Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar saying a year ago that not only was there a Quetta Shura, it had already been degraded by the Pakistan Army. The degrading bit was nonsense of course.
So then, there is insistence on the part of “some opinion makers” that Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani network have to necessarily be part of the “new political arrangement” for this “inclusive dispensation, it is believed, will view the relationship with Islamabad favourably and be sensitive to Pakistani concerns”?
How pray will these opinion makers (and foreign policy elites, let us never forget) make sure that their friends will find place in the new arrangement? Will there be elections so that the Afghans will freely choose the new ‘arrangement’? If so, what if these people are not elected? What then? Will it then be ‘arranged’ to get them on to the ‘new political arrangement’ by force of arms, and further terrorism? Will we never learn our lessons?
As for a decentralised system of governance being more likely to be sustainable than an overly centralised one (and which will be sensitive to Pakistani concerns!), how do our elites intend to ensure this system of governance in a sovereign, foreign country, named Afghanistan? At the point of terrorists’ guns? I mean is there any sense at all in any of this?
While there are mealy-mouthed references to how the Deep State and the civilian government (dragged onto the scene for no good reason for we know just where the policy on Afghanistan is manufactured) have now given up on a return to the 1990s type of dispensation in Afghanistan (please note the utter arrogance), there is nothing new in this report: it is merely an exercise in recollecting stuff that has been said umpteen times over, making some believe that this report is nothing but an insidious attempt at subtly propagating the views and the thoughts of, with notable exceptions, the very same people who got us into this mess in the first place.
One of the most ludicrous ‘perceptions’ is the China question. I’ll let the report speak for itself: “Some from among the policy elite take seriously the notion that India’s Afghanistan presence is part of a regional strategy to counter China, and in that sense, it complements long-term US interests in the region. For this cohort, Indian presence in Afghanistan will remain a major sticking point in the Pakistan-US bilateral relationship even after 2014.” Boggles the senses, eh reader? Cohort?
And to top it all: “Responses reflected an acute awareness that the Pakistani state had been embarrassed and cornered, with the world viewing Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan as proof that it is Pakistan, not Afghanistan that remains the centre of gravity of the problem.” And we Pakistanis do not view our country as being the centre of gravity of the problem? Osama was killed in Timbuktu? Tens of our own people are not blown to smithereens every day?
Our sahib log will never learn. We have had it.