Pakistan isn't helping the Afghan government end its standoff with the Taliban -- so Karzai is looking to India instead.
BY MUJIB MASHAL
MAY 31, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan—Before he set off for India with a wish list of military hardware, Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave negotiations with Pakistan one last chance -- at least in principle. On April 24, he traveled to Brussels for a trilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's chief of Army Staff, whose cooperation is seen as essential for any post-2014 peace deal with the Taliban. The protocol screw-ups were telling: A photo-op from Truman Hall, the residence of the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, shows a startled looking Kerry (standing in front of the wrong flag) betwixt the stonefaced Afghan president and his effective counterpart in Kayani. Pakistan's civilian foreign secretary, also present on the trip, was not even in the frame.
Already strained over how to approach negotiations with the Taliban, the relationship between Kabul and Islamabad had reached a new level of intransigence in April over Pakistani plans to build a military gate on what the Afghan government considered its side of the border. Karzai had responded by ordering Afghan troops to remove the gate and any other "Pakistani military installations near the Durand Line," the contentious British-mandated border between the two countries.
Against this backdrop, it's little surprise that the Afghan president had given up on Pakistan before he even touched down in Belgium. In trying to resolve the conflict with the Taliban before he leaves office next year, Karzai has repeatedly bent over backward in hopes of securing Pakistani cooperation -- often risking political capital at home, where anti-Pakistan sentiment is on the rise. Now, it seems, Karzai no longer wants to wait at Pakistan's mercy.
According to a source close to Karzai, Kayani actually agreed in the talks to help push the Taliban toward publicly agreeing to negotiate with the Afghan government, but the offer was evidently not trustworthy enough to dissuade the Afghan president from looking to Pakistan's archrival for assistance. (The July deadline for a similar offer -- made at a previous summit in Britain -- for a "peace settlement" with the Taliban to be reached "over the next six months" is fast approaching with no progress.) Kerry summed it up aptly before jetting back to Washington: "We are not going to raise expectations or make any kind of promises that can't be delivered."