Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sunday, April 28, 2013 
From Print Edition
The trilateral talks in Brussels between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan – convened by Secretary of State John Kerry – do not appear to have advanced the cause of peace and harmony. They were led by COAS General Parvez Kayani rather than the federal secretary under whom the COAS is supposed to work. 
There was no bilateral meeting between General Kayani and President Karzai, and the body language at a press conference in which Kerry tried to get both men to shake hands was electric with anger
This was not how a Pakistan government spokesman perceived things. Perhaps he was at a different meeting. We are told that there was ‘a positive and constructive atmosphere in which it was agreed to pursue political, security and economic cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan’ – which tells us precisely nothing. 
Beyond the empty platitudes indicative of a moot that was unproductive and therefore to be reduced to a vanilla nothingness, there was John Kerry pleading that the fractious neighbours ‘under-promise’ in terms of what they say they will do rather than ‘over-promise’ and then underachieve, failing to deliver.
The inability to clear the road of rocks is bad news for both countries. Kabul is reportedly awash with rumours that the Karzai government is going to postpone elections for three years. 
It is known that Karzai is desperate to hold on to power, in large part because he runs the country (or the 30 percent or so that is nominally under his writ) as an extension of the family business
The Taliban run parallel administrations in much of the south and east of the country. The Afghan army is taking casualties at the rate of 1,000 a year; recruits are 70 percent illiterate and desertions run at about 30 percent annually. Hardly a stable fighting force. Half of the Afghan police force is said to be corrupt. Afghanistan is the world’s leading supplier of heroin. And the Taliban have not in any sense been militarily defeated. There is an artificial economy based around foreign aid. 
Next door is Pakistan, which is nowhere near as close to being a failed state as is Afghanistan but is not in the best of health. 
To call this a volatile mix understates the case considerably. 
The US is desperate to broker a rapprochement before 2014, but on the evidence of this most recent meeting both sides are cosmic distances apart. 
Other players, notably India, China and Iran are busy with their own agendas, which for India constitutes the consolidation of a flanking move on Pakistan that left us wrong-footed and floundering. 
Now is the time for wisdom and statesmanship rather than displays of anger or petulance. The two countries need to urgently work at both because the price of failure is going to be the future fate of many millions of people.

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