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Flip-flop on PakistanWritten by Mohammad Raza Gulkohi
Saturday, 29 October 2011 11:02
President Hamid Karzai has created a fresh controversy about relations with Pakistan. Members of Parliament want the government to state its foreign policy towards neighbours.
A Dari proverb describes Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan. 'Get the ruby and don't vex the heart of a friend.' It is clear that the Afghan government will never go so far as to cut off relations with Islamabad.
Kabul is tied in a relationship with India, Pakistan and the US. Whereas India and Pakistan are rivals, the US has close bonds with both countries and with Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the axis around which these three countries revolve. President Karzai should take advantage of the pivotal position occupied by Afghanistan. He could take the lead in the politics of the region, instead of diplomatically reacting to events.
Dr. Abdul Qayoom Sajadi, a member of Parliament and expert on international relations, believes national interest must decide foreign policy. "Foreign politics of each country is like a ship on the sea whose movements are guided by national interest waves."
Unfortunately national interest has not been a primary concern in Afghanistan's foreign policy, he thinks.
This week the government's flip-flop on foreign policy has made news.
In an interview with Geo TV of Pakistan, broadcast October 22, President Karzai has said his country would back Islamabad in case of an attack by the US.
The president's spokesman and supporters like MP Shukriya Barakzai claim Karzai was quoted out of context. The president's office distributed a would-be official version in Dari of the interview, which in English would read: "If there will be no more suicide attacks in Afghanistan, if Pakistan helps us in ending these attacks... we will work jointly. In other words, if Pakistan works with us in honesty against extremism no power in the world can separate us. So we will be two brothers and powerful neighbours. I will personally put in all my efforts and stand against everyone, against the West and the USA, to have the best relations with Pakistan..."
There is a very clear clash with national interest here. Pakistan has always been on the side of radical extremism that continues to create mayhem in Afghanistan. The international community, particularly Washington, has recently increased pressure on Islamabad to rein in home-grown extremists. Kabul stands to benefit from the heat on Islamabad. By saying he will side with Pakistan in a conflict with the US, the president has signalled that when it comes to taking sides he could go against his biggest supporter.
Member of Parliament Fawzia Koofi who is also the head of the women's commission in Parliament, has accused the president of not pursuing a united strategy or a clear foreign policy for Afghanistan's neighbours. She blamed unnamed pro-Pakistani elements inside the Afghan government for the shift once again in policy towards Islamabad. Two weeks ago the president had issued his strongest warning ever to Pakistan by signing a first-of-its-kind strategic treaty with its rival India.
Some members of Parliament are supporting a plea that Karzai should build up domestic backing for his foreign policy and frame a strategy, through discussions and debate, before making it the government's stated position.
Mirbat Khan Mangal, member of Parliament, said: "The statement of Karzai is a concern for Parliament and people of Afghanistan. He should consult with Parliament and the people of Afghanistan whenever he wants to announce support for any country." Mirbat Khan has no doubt that Karzai was not misquoted.
He thinks it is more likely that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have got more than Washington is revealing during her recent visit to Pakistan. His suspicions are based on Clinton's statements at a press conference in Kabul where she simultaneously said that Pakistan should act against "terrorism" more strictly than in the past and that Kabul and Islamabad must work together to fight extremism.
The US secretary of state also urged the Taleban and other anti-government armed groups to cooperate with the Afghan government on peace talks. She warned of possible military action if they ignored the government's invitation to discuss peace.
Karzai seemed to go back on his government's recent move to strengthen bilateral relations with India with the signing of a strategic agreement. In his interview he called Pakistan "big brother", a fact that would not be missed by Indian diplomats.
What will be the impact on the president's peace process?
The opinion is divided with some analysts thinking the flip-flop could strain US-Afghan relations and create an impression that Afghanistan is unreliable.
According to MP Qayoom Sajadi, if both sides are playing a political game there will be no problem.
In fact, the US has also been seen to go back on its support for Pakistan. Washington has been double-faced of late: threatening to act if Islamabad does not crack down on Jihadist forces. Pakistani officials have met the challenge head-on. Pakistan is not Iraq or Afghanistan, they have said.
How could Karzai claim support for Pakistan when its military has fired more than a thousand rockets on Afghan villages on the border?
Parliamentarians have called on the president to submit in writing the foreign policy and strategy of his government. Abdul Rawoof Ebrahimi, MP, said on the floor of the house in August that a whimsical foreign policy was not to the advantage of the country.
He said that Parliament would soon send the president a letter requesting him to share with Parliament the broad contours of his relations with the neighbouring countries.
Another MP, Ali Akbar Qasimi, said the president has been sending contradictory signals on his relations with Pakistan much to the people's chagrin.