By Imtiaz Gul
The worst thing a peace negotiator can do is to deploy intimidation on one of his key interlocutors. This is exactly what your special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad did before leaving Kabul on January 17.
“If the Taliban chose to fight over peace talks, the United States would support the Afghan government”, Khalilzad warned the militia, which is extremely reticent and ultraconservative, but still the most wanted player for eventual peace in Afghanistan.
This warning, coupled with Khalilzad’s ambiguous if not dubious approach, has not only annoyed the Afghan Taliban but has also raised doubts whether he is unconsciously pursuing a policy that has – at least for the time being – created a stalemate in the entire reconciliation process.
Mr. President! Khalilzad’s latest conduct has triggered apprehensions here in this part of the world that, being intrinsically averse to Pakistan, he may be double-gaming in the peace process, and thus attempting to jeopardize not only the entire process but also undermining Pakistan’s readiness to continue facilitating the reconciliation process.
Mistrust and double-games – tied to regional geo-politics – could seriously thwart your mission – beyond repair – and the rational intent to hammer out a mutually beneficial and acceptable peace plan.
Key players here in Pakistan suspect that, taking advantage of your patronage, Khalilzad may be using his past bitterness to discredit Pakistan and spread mistrust among all the regional players. This will only prolong the stalemate and hamstring your desire for pulling out of Afghanistan to prevent further financial attrition.
Through their official website, the Taliban, on January 18, made known displeasure over Khalizad’s capital-hopping in the Gulf instead of talking to them in Qatar as detrimental to his own mission.
Mr. President, Taliban are upset at UAE meeting last month because Khalilzad invited the Kabul government delegation for possible face to face with Taliban, without informing the latter.
His plan to hold the meanwhile aborted plan of holding talks in Saudi Arabia, according to officials, smacks of propensity to sow divisions among friendly countries. This also means creating hurdles for Pakistan vis-a-vis all the Arab countries against the backdrop that Islamabad has worked hard to keep a balance in its relations with all the aforementioned countries. The mission should be to co-opt as many countries as possible instead of causing rifts – advertent or otherwise – among Pakistan and the Arab nations.
It is also being argued that Khalilzad is violating the task given to him and is involved in, what Taliban suspect, as conspiracies against real peace.
If the US as a whole fails to positively respond to the complex situation falls short of a tangible offer at this critical stage the Taliban – equally annoyed with Pakistan for over a week now – may even withdraw from the peace initiative and create an impasse which be impossible to break before November, when you will lunge into the primaries for the second term.
The critical situation requires delicately tailored sincere diplomacy, led by officials who nurture no personal grudges against any of the stakeholders and interlocutors.
Mr. President! Only you can check this slide in the reconciliation mission. Don’t let this huge opportunity slip because of narrow-ended geo-political objectives of a few people around you. Your intent is clear but perhaps not of your “trouble-shooter”. He has emerged as a “peace-breaker”, and not a peace maker, at worst – even if inadvertently. You need to change the modus-operandi if you want to salvage your “peace-in-Afghanistan” mission.
The author is Executive Director, CRSS.