Pleasant one for once?
It is strange, to say the least, that the Afghan Taliban just followed the success of this Spring Offensive – one that just all but broke the QCG (quadrilateral coordination group) – with a call for direct talks with Kabul. What caused the Mullah Mansour faction to be suddenly comfortable with the talks – after earlier caving in to field commanders’ demands in favour of another Offensive – has yet to make it to the press. But going by what has seen the light of day, given a few pre-conditions – like prisoner release, of course – the Qatar faction, at least, is fine with the talks.
Yet, strangely, even if this story is a hundred percent true, it hardly makes for quantifiable near-term progress. For one thing, does this mean Kabul will back down from its recent position (that Pakistan take action against their Taliban on our soil)? For, if we had, at leastthis signal for talks would not have appeared. And the same is true for Washington. Will Congress deny that the Taliban’s outreach, however limited, would not have been possible without Pakistan acting as the intermediary? Or will there simply be more of Haqqanis, Afridi, ‘do more’, etc?
The Taliban originally denied that they came here to talk about the talks, but now it’s become apparent that not only did they talk extensively about the talks, but the Chinese, interestingly, were also present. Beijing, it turns out, was quite active these past few days as the Quadrilateral went into a tailspin. And surely they’ve played no small part in making the Taliban realise how short-lived any gains they can achieve will be. Of course there are many, many more hurdles to overcome. But this much was necessary. But whether or not this was really a pleasant surprise will only become clear in the coming days and weeks. Kabul should tone down its rhetoric towards Pakistan, Washington should play the enabler’s role – like China – and the so-called allies should realise that if the militia is now dictating tactics, it is only because their own disunity allowed it to.
Nawaz Sharif in Quetta
Making friends and influencing people
Nawaz Sharif’s one day visit to Quetta was beneficial for both the local people and the Prime Minister. Sharif inaugurated a number of development projects worth billions of rupees in power transmission lines, gas pipelines and underpasses for Quetta. The projects were aimed at meeting the power demand, improving the voltage profile and generating employment opportunities. He also launched the National Health Programme for 76,000 families in the province. Ignored for decades by the federal government Balochistan has turned into the least developed of the provinces.
While in Quetta, Nawaz Sharif said things little heard before. He underlined the need to change the political culture in the country which allows only the wealthy and powerful to enjoy privileges. He also said that providing the nation with health facilities, education and employment is not a favour, it is each citizen’s fundamental right. It goes to Sharif’s credit that despite the dominance of the tribal elite in provincial politics, he tried to forge political ties with the more enlightened political parties and middle class politicians in the province. During his 1997-99 tenure he had developed good relations with the likes of Akhtar Mengal and Mahmud Khan Achakzai. During his current tenure he has had friendly ties with the National Party, with Abdul Malik Baloch heading the coalition government till recently and Muhammad Khan Achakzai serving as provincial Governor.
This explains why, despite repeated attempts by Imran Khan to win over politicians like Akhtar Mengal, the latter declined to take part in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s sit-in at Islamabad in 2014. As the Panama leaks took the center stage, none of the nationalist parties of Balochistan supported Imran Khan on the issue. The BNP-M vice president Sajid Tareen instead advised Sharif to take the political leadership of the province into confidence over the issue. According to Tareen, his party is deeply concerned over the prevailing political crisis as it threatens to derail the entire democratic process in the country. So is ANP, the Pakhtun nationalist party.