Pakistan's policy elite believe their state has two overriding objectives in the endgame in Afghanistan, according to a new report published jointly by Pakistan's Jinnah Institute the the United States Institute of Peace.
The first is to ensure that any settlement does not lead to instability in Pakistan, particularly amongst Pashtuns; second, to ensure that the Afghan government is not antagonistic towards Pakistan and does not allow its territory to be used against Pakistani state interests - presumably a reference to alleged Indian interference in Baluchistan.
These two objectives translate into three outcomes for the government, say the authors; first the need for stability; second, a government in Kabul that adequately represents Pashtuns and - as far as some of those questioned were concerned - includes participation by Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network; and third, a limit on India's activities in Afghanistan to ensure it is restricted to development work.
The report is based on interviews with 53 senior Pakistani figures, many of them former ambassadors or senior Army officers - all named - together with a sprinkling of journalists and academics.
Many of those questioned thought that US strategy in Afghanistan to be inconsistent and counter-productive to Pakistan's interests. "The most scathing criticism was targeted at the political component of the strategy, which is largely seen to be subservient to the military surge. Not many among the participants were optimistic about the prospects of the surge. While there was recognition that operations over the past year have degraded the Taliban’s capacity, virtually no one was convinced that this would force the main Taliban factions to negotiate on America’s terms", says the report.
Many participants recognised a dilemma for Pakistan over US policy in the region. While they argued that the US military presence exacerbated tensions and led to instability, they also felt an early US withdrawal would lead to added instability in Afghanistan. Most thought it was in Pakistan's interests for reconciliation talks to take place as quickly as possible, although they recognised that there could be no return to Taliban rule in the whole of Afghanistan. Good material in this report which casts light on a subject that is seldom aired.