The `do more` mantra again

US NATIONAL Security Adviser Susan Rice`s visit to Islamabad may have officially been to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to visit the White House next month, but there appears to have been a good deal of other business conducted too. Unhappily, the old do-more mantra was trotted out again do more, Ms Rice is reported to have told her Pakistani hosts, against the Haqqani Network. Perhaps this was to be expected, the withholding of the latest tranche of Coalition Support Funds being an early indication that the White House considers Pakistan to be directly or indirectly responsible for the surge of attacks in Kabul following news of Mullah Omar`s death. Yet, that allegation is an extraordinary turnaround from the praise heaped on Pakistan for demonstrating that it can and will nudge the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table with the Afghan government. Moreover, in that first round of talks the Haqqani Network sent a representative to the talks a representative who participated in the presence of a US government observer.

Surely, the death of Mullah Omar alone would not have forced a rethink of the Pakistani state`s Afghan policy in such quick order. It does appear that the Americans have let their frustrations with the state of affairs inside Afghanistan get the better of them. The surge in Taliban attacks, and especially several significant ones inside Kabul, after the news of Mullah Omar`s death was revealed to the world, and a succession struggle broke out causing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to lash out at Pakistan. More importantly though, the sequence of events has left the hopes for a next round of talks in shreds. Perhaps, then, the White House is attempting a balancing act placating the Afghan government, while simultaneously increasing the pressure on Pakistan in the hope that the talks` process can be resumed as quickly as possible.

That still leaves an obvious contradiction, however: if the US wants Pakistan to distance itself from the Haqqanis further, the Haqqanis are now firmly integrated into the very leadership structure of the Afghan Taliban. After an uncertain few weeks, it does appear that Mullah Mansour is beginning to consolidate his position. Are the Americans really asking Pakistan to put pressure on a shaky new Afghan Taliban leadership to eject the Haqqanis from the inner circle? Can Mullah Mansour even do that without risking another round of acute uncertainty? Or does the American demand on the Haqqanis amount to an admission that talks are not in fact a priority anymore? Time and again it has become apparent that the US policy on Afghanistan is muddled and shaped by short-term agendas. The real focus in Afghanistan should be on the resumption of talks at the earliest. Suggesting to Pakistan that it is once again up to its old tricks hardly seems a recipe for success.

Dawn Editorial