Obama-Zardari-Karzai Summit: What Should They Be Saying To Each Other?

Adil Najam

The summit meeting tomorrow between US President Obama, Pakistan President Zardari and Afghanistan President Karzai could clearly be amongst the most important events on what is being called the Af-Pak front, and possibly in defining the future of the so-called ‘War on Terror.’

I believe that this could not just be an important step forward; it could be a good step forward. It is traversity of basic logic for for so long these three countries - USA, Pakistan, Afghanistan - have supposedly been ‘allies’ in a critical war supposedly against the same enemy (terrorism), and yet there has been no real forum of strategy and policy coordination between them. Indeed, it is a measure of the absurdity of this trilateral relationship that this will really be the first ever strategic meeting between the three countries at the summit level (Presidents Bush, Musharraf and Karzai had met, but never really to discuss policy coordination and joint strategy).

It may be asking for too much, but one does hope that this will indeed be a real policy coordination and strategy development discussion and not just finger-pointing and scolding on the part of Presidents Obama and damage deflection and passing the blame on the part of Presidents Zardari and Karzai. The stakes for all three are high - indeed, the stakes are high for the whole world.

U.S. policy in the region - including its ill-guided drone attacks into Pakistan - has clearly been a failure

that has not achieved any of the stated US strategic goals. And the last thing President Obama wants to be doing is to be seen to be continuing the Bush legacy in the region. He needs to show to his own people, but also to Pakistan and Afghanistan that his policy is different from George Bush’s and also that it will work. For its part, Pakistan stands at the brink of disaster with its internal politics in disarray, its military’s morale and repute in question, and growing infuence of the Taliban in society. Mr. Zardari will need to demonstrate to his US hosts as well as his own public that he remains in control of Pakistan and in a position of actually doing something about the imminent threats to Pakistan. Hamid Karzai’s standing is no better.The charge against him is that he is merely the “mayor of Kabul,” but some suggest that he may not even have that much control, and whatever control he has may also slip away in the forthcoming elections.

All three have their work cut out for them. In very different ways the pressure will be on all three. In the case of Mr. Zardari and Mr. Karzai, even their jobs may be on the line. That is not so for Mr. Obama, but the stakes for him are also very high. One hopes that their discussion will go beyond diplomatic niceities but also not degenerate into recriminations and accusations. One hopes that it will be frank and forthright, with all three being willing to say and hear some tough love. But most of all one hopes that they will roll up their sleeves and focus not as much on who has not done what (none of the three parties has done much to be very proud of in this region) but on what needs to be done. The tragedy of this trio is not just that all three countries - USA, Pakistan, Afghanistan - have failed to do the right thing, it is that none of the three have any idea about what the right thing to do is. Neither does anyone else. This is why it is so very important for the three leaders to begin devising a real joint strategy whose purpose is not merely to control the impulses of the other in a climate of mutual distrust, but to tackle the common and growing threat of extremism, militancy and terrorism.

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