Pakistan withdraws from Afghanistan peace conference \ Rob Crilly

Date of Publication : Wednesday 30 November 2011 12:02
Pakistan withdraws from Afghanistan peace conference \ Rob Crilly
As its relations with Washington headed for new depths, Islamabad has already halted Nato supply convoys heading for the border and warned the US there can be no more "business as usual".
 Its decision to boycott Monday's meeting of 90 countries in Bonn will remove a key player in pushing Taliban insurgents towards reconciliation and raise further doubts about Pakistan's commitment to stabilise Afghanistan before and after the withdrawal of foreign combat forces by the end of 2014.
 "Pakistan looks forward to the success of this conference but in view of developments and prevailing circumstances has decided not to participate in the conference," the government said in a statement.
 A senior Foreign Office official denied that Pakistan's absence would render the conference redundant after a year's planning.
 "The agenda of Bonn does not depend on Pakistan, nor does its success depend on Pakistan. But it would be better for Pakistan if she were there. There is a slight risk of the Pakistanis disenfranchising themselves," the official said.
Nonetheless, officials in both Afghanistan and Pakistan said Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, had telephoned Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistan prime minister, to reconsider the boycott.
 A main aim of the conference is to convince the Afghans that they will not be deserted once the current 130,000 Nato troops – led by 90,000 Americans and 8,000 British – dwindles to a residual training force.
 Britain and its allies will also urge the international community to commit to funding what is still an immensely poor and aid-dependent country until 2024. On current projections there will be a $7 billion (£4.5 billion) hole in Afghanistan's funds by the end of this decade. Another British official warned that "if we walk away there will be a return to conflict".
 Vygaudas Ušackas, the EU ambassador to Kabul, said: "Bonn will be an occasion to have an honest account of those past 10 years. It will be important and useful to hear the progress we all made together, because progress is often underestimated.
 "It will also be an occasion to have a discussion about what went wrong and why and what are the lessons learned."
 Given the general pessimism about President Karzai's ineffectual government, rampant corruption and slow progress in training the Afghan security forces, expectations of a breakthrough announcement in Germany have been played down.
 But the withdrawal of Pakistan makes any kind of progress more difficult. The deadly Nato air strike has at the very least handed Pakistan an opportunity to push for greater influence in any settlement in Afghanistan, according to analysts and diplomats.
 Pakistan's military leadership duly kept up the pressure on the US and Nato yesterday, with Gen Ashfaq Nadeem, director general of military operations, describing the attack as an act of "unprovoked aggression".
 He accused Nato of breaching standard operating procedures and said the Pakistani army was still deciding whether to co-operate with the US investigation.
 According to a US military report however, a joint American and Afghan patrol hunting the Taliban requested backup after being hit by mortar and small arms fire by militants in the early hours of Saturday.
 It said the patrol first checked with the Pakistani military which said it had no troops in the area. Gen Nadeem denied that American troops had tried to liaise with their Pakistani counterparts.
 A US official told the Washington Post: "The facts are undoubtedly that somebody messed up on both sides."
 In a sign of growing anti-Western anger cable operators pulled the BBC’s world news channel from televisions across the country last night and warned that broadcasters could also be blocked.
 “We want to warn Western and international news channels to stop negative propaganda against Pakistan and Pakistani armed forces otherwise we will block their broadcasts,” the president of the Cable Operators Association of Pakistan, Malik Furqan Riaz, told AFP.
 BBC World was singled out for the documentary Secret Pakistan, which questioned the country’s commitment to tackling terrorist groups on its soil.
Story Code: 39683