Written by admin on Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

The games we play
SOURCE: Daily Times
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

“Men at some time are masters of their fate; The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” — Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

It is generally understood that track-II engagements can potentially play an important role in bridging differences between countries. This is primarily so because what cannot and may not be discussed at the government-to-government level for one or the other reason can be debated candidly at this level for understanding the underlying perspectives as also gauging and formulating prospects for generating commonalities.

I am also amazed at how uninterrupted engagement at track-II level can bring out the hidden demons and how easily can these be stated and debated, thus clearing the path to sustainable and productive interaction.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Bilateral Dialogue, jointly conducted by the Regional Peace Institute (RPI) and the Royal Danish Defence College (RDDC) is an apt example of the above. The track was initiated last May with its first round in Kabul amidst heightened tensions between the two neighbouring countries. My counterpart at RDDC and I wondered loudly what kind of results, if any at all, could be expected from the maiden engagement. But, after barely two rounds, one in Kabul and the other in Islamabad, it has not only reiterated our faith in this process, but also strengthened our resolve to continue further with it.

The stalemate usually emanates from a surfeit of bloated egos clashing across tin roofs, thus creating an unbearable crescendo of noise which signifies nothing except an unwillingness to make a move to less noisy places.

The issues separating the two countries are as simple or as complex as one would be inclined to making them. As a person who has now been engaged in conducting the track-II process for almost five years, these issues are simpler than most may like to believe. The stalemate usually emanates from a surfeit of bloated egos clashing across tin roofs, thus creating an unbearable crescendo of noise which signifies nothing except an unwillingness to make a move to less noisy places. Track-II may actually be one such place!

The principal take-away markers from the two rounds held so far encompass:
1. The war in Afghanistan has no winners and negotiations provide the only way forward.
2. There is a need for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
3. Now seems to be the best time for initiating negotiations.
4. The peace talks should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and held with or without mediators/facilitators inside Afghanistan.
5. All stakeholders should be on board. No division within either side’s ranks.

Some delegates expected that there could be further short-term escalation with peace talks following inevitably thereafter.

It was also agreed that peace will come only when there is mutual acceptance of a strategic stalemate and the parties are seriously looking for plausible alternatives — peace talks being the top option on the list.

Pakistan’s role in initiating the peace dialogue was discussed in great detail. It was generally agreed that its capacity to deliver the Taliban has been vastly overstated. In fact, no one country has the ability to do so. Consequently, it has to be a combined effort by all countries which are interested in the advent of peace in the region.

It was also stressed that both Pakistan and Afghanistan needed to clean up their houses and devise coherent and sustainable policies in dealing with a myriad challenges they face. That implied cohesion within all echelons of the respective governments in the two countries.

The role of the emerging players in the region, most notably China, Russia and Iran, also came under discussion. It was generally agreed that China could be a key constituent in facilitating the peace process because of its growing economic and political clout.

US’s strategic fatigue and its consequent inability/unwillingness to lead the way to peace was a subject of debate. A regional approach emerged as a preferred option for achieving the desired objectives.

In the context of the two combative neighbours, maximum stress was laid on developing a bilateral mindset and mechanism to address and resolve the disagreements. Remaining stuck in the past left little space to move forward and there was a need to build trust by encouraging small initiatives at multiple levels rather than waiting for the big breakthrough.

Discouraging the use of their space against the other country was a recurrent theme at the conference and it was agreed that this should be ensured. The Afghan delegates strongly dispelled the impression that their country was, in any manner, a party to the attempts to isolate Pakistan. They went on to reassure that Afghanistan’s close ties with India should not be a deterrent to good relations with Pakistan.

Afghan Ambassador Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal was forthright in stating that both countries have contributed to the existent state of relations and both countries needed to rectify it.

He went on to say that peace in Pakistan was dependent on peace in Afghanistan and vice versa. Instead of depending on other countries’ help, Afghanistan and Pakistan needed to formulate a sustainable bilateral mechanism to facilitate good neighbourliness. He strongly underlined that people in the two countries desired peace.

He also said that steps should not be taken that would inconvenience the two people, thus causing further misunderstandings.

This, by and large, is the entire palate of problems and possible prognoses. I don’t think that the ruling elites across the divide have been unaware of it. Why is it then that the two countries have not been able to move on the path to reconciliation and cooperation? Is it that some institutions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are actually hampering the growth of relations as was opined by some at the conference? As Hamlet put it:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”

If that be the case, the need is for the two governments to deal with the malaise within their ranks to pave the way for initiating productive bilateral engagement. That may be the only course to salvation for Afghanistan and Pakistan — more so to alleviate the sufferings of the people of the two countries.

It is time to stop playing games and take the cue for peace!


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