Bad to worse
It is unfortunate that last week’s attack in Kabul finally drove that long hovering right through the QCG (Quadrilateral Coordination Group). Ghani clearly went the extra mile to salvage matters, but pressure from the opposition, the Abdullah Abdullah faction of government, and now senior members of his own party made it impossible for him to sell the talks back home any longer. Yet it is difficult to quantify what his detractors might have achieved by cutting off with Pakistan. Everybody seemed happy enough when the talks seemed a reality. And – leaving the Mullah Omar story for another time – it’s not as if Islamabad did not scramble to keep Mullah Mansour from putting his weight behind the Spring Offensive.
Perhaps, ironically, the only people as happy as the opposition in Kabul seem, would be the Taliban field commanders who made sure Mansour stayed with the fight. And for that, they had to keep fighting right through the winter – not allowing for the usual winter lull. Now the immediate future, for the QCG at least, is anything but clear. If Kabul will have nothing to do with the talks, nearly two years’ investment of time and money by four countries will suddenly become meaningless.
That is why there will no doubt be a flurry of diplomatic exchanges routed through Kabul; from as near as Beijing to as far as Washington. Both powers have serious political needs of their own that will not be met until there is peace in Afghanistan. And President Ghani’s government does nobody any favours – least of all his own country – by allowing terrorists to punch far above their weight and dictate the politics of the region. Regrettable as the success of the Spring Offensive is, the QCG must not lose focus. The Taliban’s biggest failing is their inability to reach Kabul. By letting them interfere, Ghani is weakening the fight against terror, not strengthening it.
The battle of the TORs
No one’s winning
Panama leaks have acted as a catalytic agent. Leaving aside their customary donnybrooks for the time being, five political parties are gravitating towards a uniform response to the Terms of Reference (TORs) announced by the government. There is a likelihood of the PPP, PTI, PMLQ, MQM and Jamaat-e-Islami joining hands to gang up on the ruling PMLN. They are expected to meet on May 2 to jointly formulate a new set of TORs.
The PMLN enjoys majority in National Assembly. What is more, none of its erstwhile allies (that comprise of JUIF, National Party and PKMAP) have broken ranks with it. This encourages the PMLN to take a firm stand on its position. The opposition is still willing to sit together with the government to jointly formulate the TORs. What stands in the way is the government’s determination to shield the Prime Minister’s scions at all cost. There is a perception, that in case of the focus being on the dealings of the PM’s children, the trail is likely to lead to the Prime Minster House. The idea behind the TORs proposed by the government is to stop this from happening by diffusing the focus through heaps of additional – extraneous issues thus requiring the judicial commission to look for a needle in a haystack.
A number of parties in the opposition want Nawaz Sharif to either resign or nominate someone else from PMLN to act as PM during the probe. The minus-one-formula however is as much of an anathema for the PMLN as it would be for the MQM, PPP or PTI. The PMLN might decide to go for mid-term election rather than accept the demand or face the threat of an agitation. Nawaz Sharif’s ongoing campaign of rallies with emphasis on the government’s performance and announcement of more public utility schemes amounts to preparations for mid-term polls. Mid-term polls might however have surprises for both sides – just as it happened in 1977. Both the government and the opposition need to avoid playing the Russian roulette.