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Germans persuade Taliban to play ball on Afghan peace process

December 06, 2011 00:32 IST

Pakistan may have boycotted the conference on Afghanistan in Bonn in protest against the NATO airstrike which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, but Pakistan journalist Hamid Mir was present at the event. This is what he observed:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the United States may have emerged the biggest losers at the Bonn conference on Afghanistan on Monday, December 5.

The conference announced many decisions, but most participants were convinced that they could not achieve anything substantial without Pakistan's involvement.

Karzai tried to give an impression at the Bonn conference that Pakistan is the root cause of all the problems in Afghanistan, but other leaders including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were more careful in their remarks about Pakistan.

Karzai expected a robust condemnation of Pakistan from the European countries, but his hope did not materialise.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met Karzai the night before the Bonn conference and urged him not to say anything against Pakistan.

Ban met this correspondent immediately after his meeting with Karzai along with some Afghan journalists. He told us, "We cannot move ahead without Pakistan and Pakistan will respect the announcements made at the Bonn conference."

Ban was stunned when a senior Afghan journalist started speaking against Karzai; the journalist felt Karzai is not competent to lead the peace process in Afghanistan.

Many analysts believed Pakistan would be completely isolated after Islamabad's boycott of the Bonn conference, but Pakistan successfully issued a strong message to the international community that enough is enough and it would accept dictation from the US no longer.

Some European diplomats were very disappointed with Pakistan's absence at the Bonn conference; one of them commented that another Iran is in the making in Iran's neighbourhood.

Senior European diplomats involved in designing a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan revealed that a big breakthrough had been expected in Bonn, but the unfortunate incident in the Mohmand area -- where a NATO drone strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and disrupted the Pakistan-US relationship -- sabotaged everything.

The Taliban were ready to start formal talks with NATO after the Bonn conference. Taliban representatives were given an assurance that they would be permitted to establish a diplomatic office in a Muslim country other than Pakistan.

German diplomats had even discussed names for the international facilitator's role to smoothen talks with the Taliban. Pakistan definitely played an important role in convincing the Taliban to go ahead with the peace process and gave many assurances on the international community's behalf.

German diplomats spoke to their Indian counterparts to ensure that India did not raise objections to Pakistan's role in the Afghan peace process.

A senior Indian Army officer traveled to Germany and met members of the German parliament, the Bundestag's South Asia Friendship Group. This officer discussed Pakistan's role in creating a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan.

After the NATO bombing in the Mohmand area, Pakistan's Zardari government only wanted an apology from the US to save face domestically, but the US refused to make a formal apology. That was how a big opportunity in Bonn turned into chaos.

Germany's Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Mike Steiner was very hopeful until Sunday night that the Pakistan ambassador in Germany would participate in the Bonn conference. The German government requested the US to provide Pakistan's leaders a face-saver, but US President Barack Obama was not ready to make a public apology.

Obama called Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, regretted the Mohmand incident, but did not apologise.

In a detailed meeting with this correspondent, Ambassador Steiner felt Pakistan's absence was a big setback to the Bonn conference. He was hopeful that Pakistan would return to the Afghan peace process very soon.

Paul Lehrieder, a member of the German parliament, told this correspondent that he had met the Taliban's former foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Mutwakal along with other Taliban leaders in Berlin last week and discussed a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan in detail.

Lehrieder is a member of the German parliament's South Asia Friendship Group and confirmed the meeting with an Indian Army officer.

The NATO bombing in the Mohmand area, Lehrieder felt, had destroyed the Bonn conference and added that there would be no peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan being involved in it.

Another German diplomat revealed that former Taliban official Tayab Agha, a close relative of Mullah Omar, was also engaged by the Germans to bring about peace, but the NATO bombing in Pakistan had created many complications.

Tayab Agha told the German officials that 'Pakistan abandoned us in 2001 for the US and paid a very heavy price. After 10 years partnership, Pakistan is not ready to trust the US, so how can the Taliban now trust the US?'

The message fom the Bonn conference was clear: Pakistan's boycott has highlighted a dead end in the peace outreach. Islamabad took a big risk by not attending the Bonn conference, but it may well have established the US as the main obstacle to peace in Afghanistan.

Hamid Mir in Bonn