Pakistan willing to cooperate after failing to undermine Afghan conference | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 06.12.2011
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Pakistan willing to cooperate after failing to undermine Afghan conference

Some analysts in Pakistan believe Islamabad's decision to boycott the Bonn conference on Afghanistan was unwise and will only minimize its role in war-torn Afghanistan, while increasing arch-rival India's influence.

People standing on an American flag in protest of the November 26 NATO attack

Pakistan failed to undermine the Afghanistan conference in Bonn, Germany

Islamabad's decision to boycott the high-profile international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, attended by more than 80 countries, was hailed by the Pakistani media as an "honorable" and "sovereign" decision by a state which has always been criticized for bowing to US pressure on most regional and international issues.

But some Pakistani analysts think that the decision will only limit Islamabad's already diminishing options in Kabul.

Islamabad decided to boycott the Bonn conference after 24 of its soldiers were killed by NATO forces in Mohmand Agency, a restive northwestern tribal area of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

Islamabad called it an act of aggression and threatened to reconsider its decade-long support for the international "War on Terror."

NATO and US officials expressed their regret over the attacks and announced an inquiry to investigate the incident. However, no formal apology was issued to Pakistan.

Strategic alliance

A Pakistani defense expert in the country's southern city of Karachi told Deutsche Welle on condition of anonymity that Islamabad's decision to boycott the Bonn conference was aimed at soothing its people and would not have any impact on the outcome of the conference.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, center, his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, left, and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari join hands at a regional security conference in Istanbul, Turkey on November 1, 2011

Hamid Karzai, left, and Asif Ali Zardari, right, attended a conference in Turkey on November 1

He said Islamabad had already agreed to the conference charter months ago. “The Pakistan Army and the government are trying to cash in politically on widespread anti-US sentiments in the country. At the same time, they are supporting the US on important regional matters. I don't think that military and civilian officials can afford to cut ties with the US, as they depend heavily on US aid," said the expert.

At the Bonn conference, the international community pledged to continue its support for Afghanistan, even after the withdrawal of NATO combat troops in 2014. Afghanistan and the US hinted that they would go ahead with their plans to stabilize Afghanistan with or without Islamabad's cooperation.

However, Pakistani Prime Minster Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Wednesday that despite his government's decision to boycott the Bonn meeting, Islamabad would not sever its strategic partnership with Washington, which he said was "crucial" for Pakistan.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the Pakistani premier's statement.

"I was encouraged by what Prime Minister Gilani said that the United States and Pakistan would continue our cooperation in a number of areas," Clinton said.

Cross-border terrorism

The Bonn conference also saw Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticizing Western countries for their failure to tackle the cross-border terrorism issue.

US and Afghan officials claim that the Pakistani government, in particular the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of the Pakistan Army, support Taliban militants and provide safe havens to the militants in their lawless tribal areas. Islamabad denies these allegations.

The issue of cross-border militancy has been a major bone of contention between Pakistan and Western officials. Some Pakistani observers say the Mohmand Agency incident should also be seen in this context.

"It is a known fact that whenever the Taliban militants cross over the Pakistani border into Afghanistan, they are shielded and protected by Pakistani soldiers," said the expert. "I think that NATO was targeting the militants and the Pakistani soldiers also came under fire," he said.

Boycott a 'mistake'

Pakistan's Human Rights Commission Chairperson, Zohra Yousaf, told Deutsche Welle that Pakistan's decision to boycott the Bonn conference was legitimate in terms of the state's policy, but that it would be harmful in the long run.

"Pakistan is a major stakeholder in Afghan affairs," she said, "The decision to boycott the Conference would isolate it from the future make-up of the Afghan state."

Map of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China

As a neighbor, 'Pakistan is a major stakeholder in Afghan affairs'

Yousaf also said the United States was not the only participant of the Bonn conference, making the boycott irrational.

"It was a congregation of many countries. Pakistan should have gone there and registered its protest," she said.

Dr. Jaffar Ahmed, professor of Pakistan Studies at Karachi University, says Islamabad's boycott should be seen as a symbolic gesture.

"They conveyed to the world that Pakistan should be taken seriously vis-à-vis Afghanistan and the war against terrorism," he told Deutsche Welle.

Ahmed was also of the view that Pakistan should not "over indulge" itself in Afghanistan.

"It is Pakistan's right to be concerned about India's increasing influence in Kabul, but it should not unnecessarily indulge in the affairs of Afghanistan. Pakistan should be more concerned with dealing with its own domestic issues, rather than worrying about Afghanistan," Ahmed emphasized.

Anti-US sentiments are at their peak in Pakistan. The religious parties have called for a complete break of ties with the US.

But, despite that, most Pakistani observers say it is highly unlikely that Islamabad would leave the military and strategic alliance with the US. Recent statements by key Pakistani officials show Islamabad is ready to negotiate its demands after failing to undermine the impact of the Bonn conference.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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