All Sorts of Things

Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.

Pakistan: Islamabad should Negotiate an Agreement with the Taliban

Taliban FightersOver the past few months, Pakistan has undergone the first democratic transition in its history.

Unfortunately, this change has done nothing to solve the country’s problems, which include, but are not limited to, an uncertain security environment, a deteriorating economy and instability in its relations with its neighbors (Afghanistan and India).

The first and third items are what is hurting the country’s economy and, since they have been ongoing for a number of years, their impact is cumulatively greater the longer they continue.

Furthermore, the revenue streams that Pakistan enjoyed from the United States and its allies is likely to decrease as they reduce their presence in Afghanistan. While China and the Persian Gulf nations (Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular) could step in and fill that gap, they – unfortunately for Pakistan – have bigger priorities closer to (or within) their borders.

By the way, I am setting aside any aid or loans Islamabad gets from international financing institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund since their purpose is not to provide funds (the amount is a relative pittance and comes with too many conditions) as much as to assure other investors of the stability of the country’s finances. So, if there are no investors to begin with, then those IFI reports don’t mean much.

Few people will argue that the long-term solution to Pakistan’s many problems lies in better economic conditions. Fewer less will disagree that Islamabad needs to prioritize its problems and then focus on those that can provide the biggest benefit in the shortest amount of time.

I posit that the only issue that fits these criteria is for Islamabad to begin negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban.

I fully expect a number of people to disagree with this choice and will even admit that the extreme levels of corruption in the country will blunt any step forward. One could therefore argue that Islamabad should tackle corruption first.

However, corruption has been a way of life for Pakistanis, and the companies doing business in the country, since its independence. Hence, its tougher to fight and will have a smaller relative impact on the nation’s economy.

Therefore, looking at all the options in a logical and impartial manner brings forth only one conclusion: Islamabad should begin negotiations with the Taliban.

So, what are some of the problems with these negotiations?

Firstly is Islamabad’s weak position. It needs a stable country much more than the Taliban so they are in a position of strength. This can be slightly reversed with an increase in military operations in Taliban controlled areas and an increase in drone strikes.

By the way, this is also the toughest problem to solve since any military action will increase the counterattacks against Pakistan’s badly trained, equipped and motivated security forces.

The aforementioned drone strikes are the second issue. While an increase in their numbers can increase the Taliban’s motivation to negotiate, the truth is Islamabad has no control over them. Consequently, it cannot promise any substantive change regarding them to anyone.

This, however, may not be such a big problem since Washington is unlikely to continue the strikes at the current pace once it leaves Afghanistan – and they are already lower than in years past.

This means though that Islamabad cannot wait forever to implement this policy since negotiating to end something is probably difficult if that thing has already ended.

Thirdly, getting buy-in from the US may pose a challenge since Washington started a whole war to defeat the Taliban and that doesn’t seem to have happened. Again, this may not be such a big problem since the US is already supporting Kabul’s negotiations with the Afghan Taliban.

The fourth issue is selling this policy to the Pakistani people. This may be the easiest sell of all since all the citizens care about is peace and they’ll likely support anything that makes that happen. The Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) may pose the biggest challenge since they are fighting the Taliban for Karachi’s crime revenues.

This challenge could be overcome if the MQM is convinced that the Taliban only moved to Karachi to escape being targeted in the country’s northwest. Once they return to their natural habitat of fresh air, open spaces and outdoorsy lifestyle, the MQM can once again become the leading Karachi’s leading criminal enterprise.

Now, lets talk about the Taliban’s possible demands.

Obviously, they will need to be compensated for their revenue declines if they leave Karachi but having free reign in the northwest will soothe some of that pain.

They will likely want total control over their areas. This isn’t anything new since they controlled those regions before and they were relatively peaceful. Plus, as the American people have so valiantly shown, giving up some basic rights in exchange for security and stability isn’t that big of a loss and the people of those areas will likely feel the same way.

The big challenge will be regarding cross-border operations both in Afghanistan and India since that was the primary reason for their creation The truth is that there is no solution to this problem and, as the US has found, its impossible to stop.

The best outcome will be to stop Taliban-sponsored or led attacks within Pakistan and use the relatively stability of and freedom in Taliban-controlled areas to reduce the number of cross-border activities.

Lastly, as US and European nations reduce their involvement in Pakistan, Islamabad has no choice but to do what it must to set conditions for peace and stability within its borders.

After all, if the allies can support Kabul’s negotiations with their Taliban, they can’t be against Islamabad taking similar action, can they? No one can be that hypocritical!

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