Zahid Malik

Friday, March 12, 2010 – Comment

Islamabad—The visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai has some of the characteristics of former President Pervez Musharraf. He walks and talks straight, speaks with confidence and comes directly to business. I have met him earlier too, both in Islamabad and Kabul. This time the interaction was longer and closer, contributing to better understanding of his concerns and preoccupations.

The Afghan President graciously invited me yesterday to breakfast for some of the Islamabad-based media persons. After characteristically hospitable pleasantries, he touched on serious issues facing Afghanistan and Pakistan with substantive remarks and observations. Later at the lunch hosted in his honour by Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani at the PM House, I had a useful opportunity to listen to their addresses which focused on the desire of the two countries to build close understanding and cooperation.

The news based on Prime Minister’s Address of Welcome and the visiting President’s address has been carried on the front page of this Paper. The main newsworthy subject at the breakfast was that Afghanistan is all set for a fundamental change in policy and approach towards the Taliban. President Karzai is now willing to talk even to Mullah Umar.

It was also encouraging to note that Kabul is mindful of Pakistan’s role in the emerging Afghan scenario. Whether that be said also of Pakistan’s strategic interests is however unclear.

President Karzai did not appear to share the misgivings of Pakistanis over the increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan, and India’s abuse of Afghan hospitality for so-called consular offices in Kandahar and Jalalabad which are in fact dens for espionage, interference and sabotage against Pakistan. An American General recently acknowledged Pakistan’s concerns but surprisingly, Afghanistan – a friend, neighbour and brother seems to dismiss their validity. President Karzai was rather overzealous in defence of the growing Afghanistan-India relationship. Forgetting that India had not only not condemned but even defended the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979, Karzai emphasized: Let me explain to you, we have extremely good friendly and strong relations with India. That country has given to us a grant of one point two billion US dollars as well as one thousand scholarships a year. His rather simplistic assurance that Kabul-Delhi cooperation was not at the cost of Pakistan, could hardly carry credibility.

Except for insensitivity to Pakistan’s legitimate concerns regarding Indian role in the region, I was impressed to listen to President Karzai at these two avenues and I got an impression that he is keen to take along Pakistan on board regarding thenew developments taking place in the region. Let us hope that President Karzai’s visit augurs well for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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