The PJ Tatler

Afghan Government Blames Pakistan for Assassination of Peace Talks Chief

And President Karzai is giving up talking to the Taliban and looking to cut a deal with Pakistan:

“We are basically looking for a conceptual change to this whole exercise of peace talks,” said Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the Afghan deputy security adviser, said Sunday. “From now on to us, the main party for peace in Afghanistan is Pakistan, not the Taliban or whatever other elements.”

Afghan officials have concluded that a high-level member of the Taliban’s leadership in Quetta, Pakistan, helped organize the attack. On Sunday, Afghanistan’s National Security Council said the killer was a Pakistani citizen from the town of Chaman near Quetta.

The Taliban have remained silent on their role in Mr. Rabbani’s killing and said they are looking into who was responsible. Taliban spokespeople couldn’t be reached Sunday for comment.

Mr. Karzai is sending a delegation to Islamabad to present his evidence of Pakistan’s role in the assassination, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Mr. Karzai’s national security adviser, said. Karzai aides have called on Pakistan to investigate allegations that the plot was backed by the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, spy agency.

While Pakistan has denied playing any role in the attack, the revelations have convinced Mr. Karzai and his close aides that it is useless to pursue direct talks with the Taliban, Afghan officials said. That is because they believe the Taliban leaders are essentially instruments of Pakistani policy, and cannot deliver any deal on their own.

Aqil Shah, writing in Foreign Affairs, believes this is what Pakistan has desired all along; to be a major player in any peace negotiations in Afghanistan. Shah wrote in response to the attack on our embassy in Kabul:

The ISI-led attack also conveys the agency’s intent and capacity to use insurgents to spoil any peace process that excludes Pakistan. The country no doubt has a legitimate stake in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan to its west, and it, along with other regional states, should be part of any reconciliation process. But its military covets a seat at the head table in any peace negotiation so that it can veto any outcome that threatens its expansive national security interests in the region. Ideally, the military would like Afghanistan to become a relatively stable satellite dominated by Islamist Pashtuns, which are much less likely than more secular Pashtuns to make irredentist claims on Pakistan’s own Pashtun regions, or bow to Indian influence. The military’s worst-case scenario would be an Afghanistan controlled or dominated by groups with ties to India, such as the Northern Alliance, which it fears would permit New Delhi to continue activities that are hostile to Pakistan even after the United States leaves the region.

It will be interesting to see if Karzai’s change in negotiating strategy results in fewer attacks by Pakistan’s surrogates — the Taliban and the Haqqani network. But the price for peace with Pakistan is likely to be very high for the Afghans, as Islamabad may very well demand a less independent, more compliant Afghan government than Karzai can envision at this point.