Daily Times Editorial 5 October 2019

Afghanistan’s unending endgame


Good of the prime minister’s special assistant for information to finally clear the air, so to speak, about rumours that Imran Khan met the visiting Taliban delegation just the other day. Truth be told, with everybody meeting everybody – Taliban and the Pakistanis, Zalmay and the Pakistanis, Taliban and Zalmay – it wasn’t too hard to believe that the Taliban might have sat down with Imran Khan as well. But Imran did say, in America, that he’d only meet the Taliban once their deal with the Americans was signed. And since President Trump had just dumped any prospects of that happening anytime soon, PM Imran was understandably “very sad.”
However, it is very important to remember that back then Imran thought his idea was the smartest one, that once the Taliban and Washington shook hands, he [Imran] would help convince the insurgents to talk to the official government in Kabul. But since he had earlier also suggested dissolving the Kabul administration in favour of an interim setup, which would include the Taliban, it’s little surprise that few people, including the Taliban, bought into it. So even though a lot of important meetings have taken place all over again were are still, more or less, not very far from where we started more than a year ago; when President Trump first green-lighted the peace talks. Perhaps that’s because nobody has paid any attention to the number one problem.
For all the progress, the Taliban never recognised the official Afghan government, nor allowed it any part in the peace talks. And all the while Washington played along, completely ignoring Kabul. Of course that rubbed President Ghani the wrong way. He just could not fathom the logic of deciding Afghanistan’s future, with a militia that refuses to so much as recognise the constitution, and with zero participation of the legal Afghan government; one which the US itself poured billions upon billions into propping up. And if Islamabad was suggesting doing something about it after the Taliban and the Americans struck a deal, Kabul was just not interested. Hence the stalemate. If this particular feature has not been addressed in this rushed, hush-hush round of renewed talks, then all everybody’s achieved is going round in circles one more time.
And so the Afghan war’s endgame goes on and on. Lately Russia, China and apparently even Iran have joined others in hitting the proverbial brick wall. The solution, which everybody should start thinking about, is getting the two principle Afghan parties to the conflict to talk to each other. And that should be done before anybody decides anything with the Americans. That will remain a problem, though, because Taliban militias keep grabbing more ground, and headlines, putting everybody else on the back foot, including Imran Khan. For the endgame to finally end, then, someone will have to blink first. *



Traders go complaining

No matter how you try to wrap your head around it, it still seems strange that the country’s trading and business elite, at least a part of it, would go complaining to the army chief. Stranger still that the prime minister would assure them of a ‘fear-free business environment’ the same day. It just goes to show, at the end of the day, that the economy has become a major cause of concern for everybody. And it will take more than the usual assurances like ‘all will be well soon’ to calm anxious nerves this time. Inflation is still rising, jobs and earnings continuing to shrink and GDP projections are reduced to the low two-point-something mark.
Sure, everybody knew that a painful period adjustment was long overdue. And there’s more than a grain of truth and the PTI claim that it’s all Nawaz Sharif’s and Asif Zardari’s fault. Yet PTI fought tooth and nail to earn the right to run this country. It must play the cards it has been dealt; and it’s not like it did not know what it was getting into.
The important thing now, since the harshest steps have apparently already been taken, is to figure out just what will trigger growth going forward. It seems, fortunately, that the government has realised – even if a little late – that perhaps extreme fiscal and monetary tightening was bad enough and the business community could have done without the sword of accountability hanging over its head for now.
That explains all the talk of another strategic u-turn, one which will see some tax relaxation for sectors like real estate, etc, in addition to allowing other excess that the accountability bureau can run after another day. For now, it is far more important to get the economy going. And if Imran Khan can’t do it, people will clearly start looking for alternatives.
There’s also been talk, in corridors close to the state bank, that the interest rate regime is now plateauing, and a small cut might come soon even if it irks the IMF. If so, the government has probably realised that it put its foot on the throat of the working classes a little unfairly. Better late than never, especially if it stimulates jobs, growth and all that. *
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