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Pakistan Today Editorial – 20th May 2016

The otters, the fish and the fox
A modern day fable

On Wednesday a slur was made by a combative PML-N cabinet minister, later the word withdrawn and deleted from the proceedings and the matter settled followed by an agreed formula on the formation of a joint parliamentary committee to formulate ToRs. Overnight the Speaker changed the formula to accommodate the MQM without consulting the leader of the opposition. This was obviously meant to gain the MQM’s sympathies at the cost of the joint opposition. The way some of the PML-N legislators defended the MQM’s inclusion caused further bitterness.

The opposition comprising nine parties is united only over the ToRs that demand, among other things, that the enquiry should begin with the PM. The PTI is clear about its objective: overthrowing of the government by hook or by crook. The PPP would not like to upset the apple cart but is seen to be following in the footsteps of the PTI. Like the PTI it wants that Nawaz Sharif hand over the office to a fellow party leader pending the enquiry. Neither the ANP nor QWP agree with the position. There are sharp differences within the joint opposition over other issues too. The MQM has a traditional antipathy for the PTI while its relations with the PPP are less than cordial. The ANP is more against the PTI than PML-N on account of KP politics. The PTI meanwhile remains suspicious about the PPP’s role.

There is a need to find a realistic way out of the current crisis. The infantile attitude of the PML-N and an absence of trust within the opposition can lead the government to try to delay the formulation of the ToRs or the new legislation for the formation of a powerful judicial commission. The resulting standoff is likely to bring in the army which has made it clear that it wants an across the board accountability within a short period. Both the PML-N and the PPP, if not the entire political class, might turn out to be the losers in this case.

So much for the QCG
Whipping a dead horse?

If any confirmation was needed that Afghanistan had lost confidence in the QCG it came at the fifth meeting of the Quadrilateral – on Wednesday in Islamabad. Kabul sent its ambassador in Islamabad, Omar Zakhilwal, in place of the usual participant, Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai. And the ambassador minced few words when he spoke. Kabul came with the simple understanding, he said, that if the Taliban didn’t talk they’d be attacked. And since Pakistan was supposed to take care of this unpleasant piece of business, the dots not connecting is taken as Islamabad’s fault, of course.

This breakdown is unfortunate, to say the least. Granted, not everybody in the QCG is happy that Pakistan was unable to eventually arm-twist the Taliban to the talks. But, then again, not everybody sees eye to eye with Afghanistan either. The Chinese, for example, were quick to shoot down Kabul’s attempt to leverage the Quadrilateral for an attack on the Taliban. This platform, they rightly reminded everybody, was only for dialogue.

Nevertheless, Pakistan must now wriggle around once again to salvage what remains of the peace talks. A complete breakdown benefits nobody. The Afghan Taliban will only return to their Spring Offensive with more initiative. And Pakistan will continue to struggle with the TTP’s cross-border activities. Interestingly, President Ghani has won himself a nice feather in the cap by making peace with Hikmatyar. The Hizb-i-Islami might not be a big player in the insurgency, but it still carries good symbolic value. And Ghani can say, this time with force, they he means peace when he says it. This, of course, only puts more pressure on Pakistan, which could not deliver the Taliban. The Afghans showed little interest when the Mullah Mansour faction expressed slight willingness to talk recently. So definitely something more will have to be put on the table if the QCG is to be saved. So either Pakistan increases pressure on the Taliban or Ghani de-escalates to save the talks, otherwise expecting QCG to deliver would be like whipping a dead horse.

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