With the other Sharif now in Washington, the AfPak part of US-Pakistan equation, at least, will be debated more vigorously. Significantly, it is not just that the military is principally steering foreign and security policy. It is, rather, that the civilian setup has been visibly weak on both fronts. It kept dragging its feet on the TTP issue, and it offered no clear vision regarding Afghanistan. The military, on the other hand, read the local and regional temperature more accurately around Zarb-e-Azb; and the civilian high-command decided to put its weight behind the new policy.
The main focus will, no doubt, be on arranging a rerun of the Murree talks. Not just the Americans, but the Chinese, too, have been moving pieces around the South Asian chessboard for just such an eventuality. The Americans went quiet briefly after the Murree breakdown. But as the Afghan civil war takes its annual winter break, they seem to have realised that talking might be the only way to prevent another strong Spring Offensive next year. If the Taliban gain more momentum and land – like last time – they will be less inclined to talk. Right now, despite their gains, they are divided. They face internal rebellion and a bloody fight with Da’ish. Some of them, too, think that negotiating an end suits the rebellion.
The Chinese envoy for the region, who was here recently, also carried a similar message. Unfortunately, though, the Afghans are no longer game. Ghani simply does not have the political leverage anymore after the embarrassment of the previous round. The Americans have influence, of course, but convincing all important stakeholders will be difficult. Therefore, perhaps it is better to tend to some of the lingering political differences between Kabul and Islamabad first. For a while now we have been stalemated at the point of accusing the other of harbouring one’s insurgents. If the Americans and Chinese are indeed interested in brokering long-term peace in the region, they should first help iron out differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Otherwise the blame game, and the insurgencies, will continue. Either way, decision time has finally come.
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