From the color of the flag to the writing on the Taliban’s Qatar office, it doesn’t take much to derail the Afghan peace talks. But even before they get fully underway, the long-standing tension between the Karzai government and neighboring Pakistan is stepping forward as the biggest roadblock.
Pakistani officials feel left out of the latest round of talks, and that’s not a good sign. Last time they were “left out,” they deliberately sabotaged the talks by arresting the moderate Taliban leader spearheading them. US officials often say, and it is quite true, that any peace deal needs to involve Pakistan.
At the same time, President Karzai has angrily fought Pakistan’s involvement, and his allies continue to rail at the “evil” intentions of whatever Pakistani government happens to be in charge at the time. Pakistan increasingly sees Karzai as irrelevant, as he’ll be out of office in April at any rate, but he remains, in their vision, the “biggest impediment” to a final deal.
Both sides tend to oversimplify the other in regards to the talks, with Karzai treating Pakistan’s government as the de facto Taliban leadership, and Pakistan viewing Karzai as an Indian puppet, to be treated with suspicion.
The US gives lip-service to both sides, with officials lashing Karzai in unguarded moments and also blaming Pakistan every time something goes wrong with the occupation. At the end of the day it remains to be seen how keen the US is to really make a deal, and if they are so inclined, it seems the best they can do is keep Karzai and Pakistan placated until the next elections and hope Karzai’s successor will be less mercurial and more willing to negotiate.
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