By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
Turkey was able to facilitate a meeting between the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, accompanied by their ministers and army chiefs, within days the head of Afghanistan’s Intelligence Agency was wounded by a suicide bomber in Kabul. This attack was almost a carbon copy of last year’s assassination of the head of Afghan High Peace Council, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani. In both these killings, Afghanistan had pointed finger towards Pakistan. President Abdullah Gul described the bombing as an attempt to derail the dialogue between the two countries. It is a blessing that after each attempt of derailing, Turkey is always forthcoming to take the initiative for re-railing the process.
Those not wishing peace in Afghanistan and or in Pakistan are making a concerted effort to create, sustain and strengthen cleavages of all sorts. Certainly it is not an act of God that whenever any peace initiative begins to gather momentum, there is either a high profile assassination or a high pitch terrorist activity resulting in disruption of effort.
At the end of a meeting in Ankara aimed at easing recent tensions and increasing cooperation between the governments in Kabul and Islamabad, President Gul said both had “renewed trust and are determined to work together”. President Karzai said the two leaders had “very good conversations…Hopefully the fight against extremism and terrorism will take itself to a conclusion where the populations of the two countries are not threatened by these attacks…The environment of dialogue is better than it has been…we are seeing unfortunate incidents of terrorism both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” President Zardari said: “They (terrorists) don’t want us, the governments, to get together and to be able to lead the nations to peace…It is in the interest of Pakistan that Afghanistan prospers. It is in my interest that peace returns to Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to jointly investigate the assassination attempt on National Security Director of Afghanistan.
Under these trying circumstances Turkey has been quietly paying a vital role for keeping Pakistan and Afghanistan form falling apart. Relationship between these two countries is tricky, yet essential; it is slippery yet its maintainability is the only option. Peace in Pakistan is indispensible for sustainable peace in Afghanistan and vice versa. Hence peace in both the countries is a joint enterprise, requiring joint effort.
Trilateral Summit has always comes handy in bridging the perceptional gaps between the Afghanistan and Pakistan. Besides fire fighting functions, this forum has quietly covered a lot of space for evolving a robust and sustainable relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan at bilateral level as well as at trilateral tier. This event has also become a hub-centre for coordinating the efforts of other sister forums impacting the three countries. Trilateral Summit process has made valuable contribution toward the dialogue and cooperation among the three countries through its seven meetings since 2007. It is taking a holistic view of long term prospects of cooperation between the three countries including economic cooperation, connectivity, border management, drugs menace, human trafficking, disaster management etc. Trilateral Trade Council setup during the seventh summit shall allow the three countries to bring their economic and trade institutions closer in order to realize the full potential in the economic and trade partnership. Especially, this would help Afghanistan transition from a war and drug economy to a conventional financial system.
The seventh summit also reviewed the commitments made by the international community to the future of Afghanistan in the Bonn, Chicago and Tokyo Conferences held since the sixth Trilateral Summit. Three Presidents reiterated their determination to intensify the cooperation among the three countries in Afghan-led and Afghan owned peace and reconciliation efforts and address the security challenges affecting the region. They expressed their resolve to foster connectivity among the institutions of the three brotherly countries; the concept of hotline communication system among the presidential offices is a concrete example in this regard.
While speaking at a joint news conference President Zardari said both Pakistan and Afghanistan have suffered from extremist mindset and the latest attack on Afghan Intelligence Chief was part of the designs to undermine our joint efforts for elimination of terrorism. He said as extremists are facing defeat at our hands, they are reacting by launching attacks against individuals and personalities. He said it is in the interest of Pakistan that Afghanistan prospers and the Silk route opens. The President further said that Pakistan has long been hosting Afghan refugees and they would go back to their country only if there is a peaceful Afghanistan.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul, while addressing the press conference, said that all the three sides agreed to promote trade interaction among them. He urged the need for joint struggle of the regional countries to eliminate terrorism and extremism. Abdullah Gul said that terrorism is not the problem of any one country. He said that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey are committed to the peace process in Afghanistan. President Karzai said that all the three sides had important interaction for improving mutual coordination. He said that the trilateral arrangement is proving better for improving relations among all the three countries. President Karzai said that promises made for peace, stability, and economic development of the region will have to be materialized so that extremism and terrorism do not threaten the regional countries.
Recent weeks were jam-packed with various sets of negotiations and consultative modules pertaining to peace processes in Afghanistan. In most of these callisthenics, discredited actors were proverbially jockeying in circles of no joy; stereotypically, looking busy, doing nothing. The United States and Western nations, having their troops in Afghanistan, have long abandoned the notion of defeating the Taliban militarily and have reluctantly thrown their weight behind negotiations with the select groups of militants to end the fighting. Insurgents’ ability of striking in the heart of Kabul and other urban centres, at a place and timing of their choosing, speaks for itself. Stealthy talks are going on at various levels between the occupation forces and Taliban representatives for the revival of peace in Afghanistan before the Runaway ceremony (to be called Historic Victory). The United States, United Kingdom, NATO/ISAF are making hectic efforts in the name of restoration of peace in Afghanistan. Most of the efforts are, nonetheless, erratic, with no sense of direction.
Pakistan is pursuing with Afghanistan to strike a deal with the political resistance groups at the earliest. During his recent visit to Brussels, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Kayani gave Pakistan’s perspective on the Afghan endgame. He urged all the players to reach a peace deal with the Taliban during the next year in order to avoid any chaos at the time of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. Pakistan has recently sent strong signals that it would support the Afghan government’s efforts to draw the Taliban factions into negotiations.
With a demonstrated track record of honesty of purpose, Turkish leadership enjoys unique credibility amongst the peoples and governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Being a part of ISAF/NATO Turkey could effectively act as a link between the foreign forces and the Afghan political resistance groups. Turkey is most suitably placed to lodge a political office of Taliban and facilitate the process of reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan. Trilateral summit process stands unique amongst other Afghan related initiatives. Avoiding tall claims and self-projecting galas, this forum is making consistent contributions toward a peaceful Afghanistan.
Writer is Consultant, Policy & Strategic Response, IPRI.