Afghan government faces challenge when dealing with Pakistan

By Hafizullah Gardesh

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, speaks during a joint press conference with NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, unseen, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. NATO's top official said Thursday the alliance remains committed to help enable Afghan forces assume full responsibility for the country's security after 2014, when coalition troops are due to end their combat mission.

Associated Press

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Talk of a strategic agreement with Pakistan has scandalized Afghans who believe their southern neighbor wants to undermine rather than help their conflict-torn country.

The pact came up during a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, Asia Ali Zardari, while both were attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York at the end of September. They agreed to instruct their foreign ministers to work together to draft a final agreement by the end of 2013.

At the meeting, Zardari told Karzai that Islamic militancy, terrorism and the drugs trade were common challenges on which their two countries must cooperate.

Many Afghans, however, suspect the Pakistani authorities of covertly backing the Taliban and other insurgent groups in order to prolong instability.

In recent months, their sense of anger has been increased by wave upon wave of cross-border shelling and rocket fire targeting the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar. Dozens of civilians in these border areas have been killed, and thousands forced to leave their homes.

Why, the residents of these provinces ask, is their president exploring diplomatic agreements with the leader of a nation that seems bent on their destruction? In the last year, Afghanistan has signed strategic pacts with the United States and India. But Pakistan, Karzai's critics say, it an entirely different matter.

"We have signed many agreements, but Pakistan has not delivered on even 1 percent of its commitments, nor has it acted for the good of Afghans. It would do better to meet these prior commitments," said Aryan Yun, a member of the Afghan parliament. "Pakistan has shown its true colors to the Afghan people over the last 30 years. There's no need to sign a strategic agreement with it now."

Faced with growing resentment at home, Karzai's spokesman Siamak Herawi attempted to play down the possibility of an agreement. "This is no more than a proposal. There's no written blueprint for this pact," he said. "Parliament, civil society and the Afghan nation will be kept informed, and the content of the pact will be scrutinized by experts. So in general, a decision will be made once a general consensus has been achieved."

Given the growing concerns that the current Afghan government will be unable to survive following the withdrawal of foreign forces at the end of 2014, political analyst Abdul Satar Sadat said that talk of a bilateral treaty between the two countries is premature.

"The pact will be signed in the midst of a conflagration," he said. "It isn't certain whether it will survive the flames," he said.

Hafizullah Gardesh is a reporter in Afghanistan who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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