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DAWN Editorials – 9th February 2016

A road map for Afghanistan

THE Quadrilateral Coordination Group on Afghanistan has produced something of a surprise: talks with the Afghan Taliban are to resume by the end of the month.

With the fighting season in Afghanistan rapidly approaching, delayed talks would have meant the possibility of the Taliban making fresh gains on the battlefield and therefore being in a stronger position for delayed talks.

Now it appears that talking and fighting will take place simultaneously, giving the Afghan government and the QCG some additional leverage at the negotiating table — or at least not losing further ground to the Taliban at the outset. Also sensible is the reported phased approach to a peace process.

Know more: Taliban-Kabul direct talks expected by month’s end

Part of the delay in resuming peace talks was known to be the Afghan government’s insistence that Pakistan take action against so-called irreconcilables among the Taliban, some of whom are thought to be based in Pakistan. In recent weeks, there has been some suggestion that the US too was looking for Pakistani action against the Haqqani network and parts of the Taliban.

Both the Afghan demands and American suggestions were deeply problematic — a peace process should begin by identifying those willing to reconcile rather than singling out those unwilling to do so.

It now appears that better sense has prevailed as the QCG joint press release over the weekend once again mentioned “Taliban groups” — a formulation that does not at least rule out any factions. Yet, the very mention of ‘Taliban groups’, used since the first joint press release of the QCG in January, suggests a difficult road ahead. How many groups are there?

Who leads them? And which ones are inclined to come to the negotiation table? The fracturing of the Afghan Taliban has possibly added to the logic of a negotiated peace — can factions and small groups really wage endless war against a state that while weak is not collapsing?

But it will also make the peace process more difficult to manage. A fractured Taliban means multiple leaders, each with agendas of their own. The QCG’s intensive diplomatic efforts will need to be sustained for quite some time.

There are some early lessons to be learned, however, for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. For the Afghan side, the spells of public rancour against Pakistan need to be reconsidered.

For a year now, it has been clear that the Pakistani state is committed to helping create an intra-Afghan peace process and has wanted to work with the Afghan government to address mutual security concerns.

The Afghan side should respond with equanimity when obstacles in the peace process appear, as they will inevitably.

For the Pakistani side, the concerns about TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan should not overwhelm efforts to nudge the Afghan peace process forwards. The dividends of a successful Afghan peace process will be of an enormous magnitude and will positively impact many other national security concerns here.


JI’s textbook concerns

AT a time when the rest of the country is worrying about how to protect our children from militants who have vowed to attack more educational institutions, the Jamaat-i-Islami appears unduly preoccupied with school textbooks that show people wearing trousers, girls in short sleeves and drawings of human body organs.

Such absurdities — especially the last, for what else would a biology textbook be expected to contain — would perhaps be easier to stomach had the party, which is a coalition partner of the ruling PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, actually made some useful contribution towards the ongoing discussions on the best way to protect our educational institutions from terrorist threats.

Also read: JI points out ‘objectionable material’ in textbooks to govt

But thus far we have heard nothing very constructive from it as far as that conversation is concerned. Instead, there is a long list of what the JI, or at least its chapter in the province, considers objectionable that has already been submitted to the education department.

One wonders how this list has been received. Some reports suggest the list has been rejected.

At a time when the education department of the province, headed by a PTI minister, is striving to rebuild schools damaged by floods and protect other educational sites from terrorist attacks of the sort that KP has already witnessed, how exactly does the provincial government perceive this list?

Already the education department has tried to appease the JI, mainly by removing a chapter on Helen Keller — whose story is a ray of hope for the deaf and mute — which was a bizarre response.

Others have shied away from allowing the use of Malala Yousafzai’s book in higher education for fear of offending some with an extremist mindset.

One sincerely hopes that the education authorities will not now feel they have to indulge in further acts of appeasement, if, for instance, they are asked to rewrite science and history textbooks; and that the ruling party will prove equal to the task of imparting a sound education to the children of the province.

The provincial chief of the JI has pointed to an ‘agreement’ that he says his party has with the PTI on education matters in KP, and hopes that all issues will be settled ‘amicably’. It would be troubling if this meant giving in to demands that can only deal a lethal blow to all efforts to bring education back from the brink in KP.


Train compensation

A NOTE from the Lahore Development Authority on Saturday said that the counters processing compensation claims for people who will be displaced by the orange train in the city would remain open on Sunday.

Not only this, the LDA press release rather quietly reminded all concerned that these counters had been set up temporarily.

The obvious message was for the claimant to make a dash for the money on offer lest the ‘temporary’ offer was withdrawn.

Also read: Orange train project: Most compensation seekers dissatisfied with offer

The essential element of speed was very much there, which would once again elicit calls for caution from those who believe in a measured and disciplined approach towards doing a job, any job, in order to avoid problems.

The government has chosen to answer the criticism of the orange train project with a brisk processing of claims. It is probably hoping that the positive vibes emanating from some of those who are paid against the loss of their home or business will act as an effective answer to the critics.

But just as there are instances where the compensation has been to the satisfaction of a claimant, not only has there been protest by those who blame the officials of underestimating the value of their property, there are other, newer dimensions that need to be taken into consideration.

There is some kind of a formula that promises to pay the land cost, structure cost and, over that, 15pc acquisition charges to the affected people. But these efforts by a government at its most persuasive will still leave quite a lot of room for doubts and unease among those who are to lose their home and employment because of the fancy train.

There is fear among the affected lot that could lead to some apprehensions regarding the compensation scheme. The process has to be more transparent not only for those who are to be compensated but for everyone around. Otherwise, the rumours that are already doing the rounds will get more vicious over time.

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