The trilateral summit at Chequers

The trilateral  summit, in early February at which Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Presidents Asif Zardari and Hamid Karzai at Chequers, was the third since this trilateral process began in July 2012 in Kabul, followed by a meeting last September on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York when Cameron presented a roadmap to iron out differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Some assessments of the meeting have been sceptical about progress being achieved, given the characteristically mercurial behaviour of Karzai, whose main interest is ensuring his relevance is retained in the run up to the 2014 withdrawal of most US/Nato forces. There has also been speculation that Cameron is trying to build a conflict-resolution legacy around these talks.
Such assessments miss not only whatever was achieved, but also the underlying significance. At one level, it is a manifestation of British pragmatism born of colonial experience in South Asia and a bitter, unsuccessful involvement in Afghanistan.
While Britain was the first to support the US with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, tactically, it has occasionally followed a different tack. In Afghanistan, the British troops negotiated local arrangements with some hostile forces as done around Basra in Iraq. They recognised, earlier than the Americans, the impossibility of subduing the Taliban and the prospect of chaos and the Taliban revival.
Therefore, despite the negative American narrative of Pakistan “must do more” throughout almost all of Obama’s first administration, Britain recognised that without Pakistan’s active support the chances of Afghan stability were extremely dim. The USA was forced to the same conclusion in the middle of last year, and both countries began trilateral processes that were mutually supportive but different.
The USA-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral dialogue’s objective is furthering peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. The British mediation focuses on improving relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan as an essential precondition. Both dialogues demonstrate the Western narrative on Pakistan shifting from negative to positive mode.
At the Chequers Summit, the results were mixed though on balance the gains represent an advance. On the downside, President Karzai continued to display unnecessary sensitivity on inter-Afghan talks outside Afghanistan. He reluctantly agreed that the Doha Office should be open for talks with the Taliban, though insisting that the Taliban talk only to the Afghan High Peace Council. However, the Taliban response that they were willing to talk to all parties should, hopefully, provide a compromise.
Pakistan, despite not being taken completely into confidence when the Doha proposal was mooted, had gone out of its way to support peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Its Prime Minister made a public appeal to the Taliban, the Afghan High Peace Council visited Pakistan, and in line with its request some 26 key Taliban detainees were released and provided safe passage for entering into talks inside or outside Afghanistan. Again at Afghanistan’s request, Pakistan agreed to a joint Ulema Conference to make a call against extremism and suicide bombing.
All this was done despite continued and significant Indian support through the Afghan territory for dissident forces bent on destabilising Balochistan; and the always inimical  National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency, sheltering Taliban driven from Swat and now mounting terror attacks into Pakistani border areas.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan to be negotiated for signature in 2013 was put on hold by Karzai, linking it to reconciliation, itself  becoming increasingly more complex as 2014 approaches.
Pakistan’s three key objectives at Chequers were: to set up mechanisms for border management; the return of the over three million Afghan refugees that, though vital for Pakistan, has never figured in the calculations of the Western powers or Afghanistan; and closer military-to-military and intelligence-to-intelligence cooperation that would impact all three areas.
With the active participation of the Afghan and Pakistani Chiefs of Defence Staff and Intelligence, the most progress was made on the third issue; with an agreement that for ‘Mil-Mil’ and ‘Intel-Intel’ cooperation, working level meetings would be held monthly, at a higher level every six months, and at the levels of Chiefs of the Army and Heads of Intelligence on a needs basis.
On border management, which requires in any case a GoP decision to begin fencing it, and return of refugees, which again is long delayed, the initial mechanisms are for meetings between the Foreign and Interior Ministers, with the objectives of drawing up realistic roadmaps, and facilitating peace and reconciliation as the leitmotif. The Commerce Ministers would also meet to discuss trade and transit issues.
The prognosis for Afghanistan remains opaque and bleak. After 2014 intensified civil strife is one probable scenario. Those who assessed earlier that the Taliban would never be able to regain their previous position of dominance are no longer so certain. There is, however, increasing recognition that while the fundamental responsibility for an Afghanistan at peace within itself and with others rests with the Afghans themselves, Pakistan which has paid so heavy a price - for the turmoil in Afghanistan - can make a seminal contribution and cannot be kept out of the equation, if Karzai is keen on achieving enduring peace and stability in his country.
Both governments should also address the mistrust and hostility that pervades some sections of Afghanistan in regard to Pakistan and in this regard, the civic society on both sides has a role to play in support of the educational,  medical and infrastructural assistance being given  by Pakistan.
The progress of the trilateral processes notwithstanding, Pakistan with its long experience of dealing with Afghanistan must interact according to its national interests directly with its neighbour and similarly resolve all related issues, without  the involvement of third parties with their own agendas who have failed in Afghanistan in the past as well as in the current occupation of that country. This would also be in the sovereign interests of Afghanistan, which has suffered most through foreign occupation.

The writer is ex-ambassador and former additional foreign secretary. Email:

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat. Email:

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