While American troops have already begun leaving Afghanistan, as announced by US President Biden, the dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government regarding reconciliation and future political arrangement seems to be going nowhere.
This is indeed a worrying factor for almost all the regional countries which have been affected by instability in Afghanistan, and have been making strenuous efforts to restore peace in that country.
As a front-line state in the ‘war against terror’, Pakistan has suffered the most in terms of lives lost and damage to its economy. Pakistan has also been hosting three million Afghan refugees for the last three decades, which has created problems of its own besides ecological damage. Pakistan therefore has the highest stake in regard to peace in Afghanistan, with the shift of its focus on geo-economics and strategic connectivity which is imperative for shared economic prosperity for which there exists enormous potential.
Pakistan admittedly played a key role in facilitating dialogue between the Taliban and the US which culminated in a peace deal between them and also helped in the initiation of an intra-Afghan dialogue, stemming from its belief that durable peace in that country hinged on an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led solution. Besides efforts towards ending conflict in Afghanistan Pakistan also provided military and logistic support to the US in fighting Al-Qaeda, the TTP and the Islamic State. Both countries also addressed each other’s security and strategic concerns.
But regrettably the Taliban and the Afghan government have made no progress with respect to the political future of the country; and it is rightly apprehended that if they are unable to reach at any agreement before the total withdrawal of US and Nato troops, there is a danger of Afghanistan relapsing into factional fighting which may consign the country to yet another unending conflict with a negative fallout for the entire region.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was right on the money when addressing a joint press conference with the president of Tajikistan when he remarked that: “If the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is similar to what Russia did in 1989, we both are concerned about the security to our trade and connectivity. Both countries share concern over Afghanistan sliding back into instability with no political settlement after the withdrawal of the US forces. Our trade will be affected because we fear [that], with the spread of anarchy, terrorism will also increase, threatening stability – and we both have decided to push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. We both share this concern and want that when the US leaves, there is a political settlement and a government of consensus is installed there”.
Unfortunately, while the regional countries including Pakistan are striving hard to see return of normalcy in Afghanistan and settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government, there are certain elements which are out to spoil the chances of peace in the country. India is playing the role of a spoiler by providing support to terrorist outfits in Afghanistan and forging a nexus with the TTP, ISKP and NDS. A stable Afghan-Pakistan border is against its interests. The Afghan leadership is also thwarting chances of peace in the country. A select elite in the Afghan government and NDS is clinging to power even at the cost of peace.
Pakistan surely has a pivotal role in facilitating peace in Afghanistan before the US pull-out and in the post-withdrawal era and it is globally recognized that there can be no peace in Afghanistan without support from Pakistan. However, Afghan leaders, despite sporadically acknowledging the positive role of Pakistan in pushing Afghanistan towards peace and stability, continue to look askance at its links with the Taliban and from time to time keep making unsavory remarks about it, notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan has made several moves to build an ambience of trust.
Recently COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Kabul and met Afghan leaders Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. In his meeting with President Ghani, British Chief of Defence Staff Gen Nicholas Patrick Carter was also present. Reportedly, the COAS reiterated: “A peaceful Afghanistan means a peaceful region in general and a peaceful Pakistan in particular. We will always support an ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ peace process based on [the] mutual consensus of all stakeholders. Restoration of the Emirate or dictatorship by the Taliban is not in anybody’s interest in the region, especially Pakistan.” The Afghan president thanked him for the meaningful dialogue between the two sides and also appreciated Pakistan’s sincere and positive role in the Afghan peace process.
However, the Afghan president in an interview with ‘Der Spiegel’ a day later seemed to have gone back on his words of appreciation for Pakistan’s positive role in the Afghan peace process. Responding to a question, he asked European allies to play a role to get Pakistan on board. He said that Germany could do a lot in the peace process with the Taliban and Pakistan as a state has to make an important decision on Afghan peace. In that context, he reiterated: Clear messages and incentives from Germany will help – and, conversely, they should introduce sanctions if the decision goes in a different direction than hoped. It is first and foremost a matter of getting Pakistan on board. The US now plays only a minor role. The question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistani hands.”
As if what the Afghan president said was not enough, the Afghan National Security Adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, in a public speech in the eastern province of Nangarhar last week not only accused Pakistan and its spy agency of supporting and directing the Taliban’s insurgency in Afghanistan but also called Pakistan a ‘brothel house’. Reportedly, Pakistan has denounced his remarks and said that they debased all norms of interstate communication. It has also been conveyed to the Afghan leadership that Pakistan would no more conduct any official business with the security adviser.
This continued ambience of mistrust is not going to help in achieving the objective of durable peace in Afghanistan. The Afghan leaders must think beyond their own political agenda and try to establish peace in the country. Both sides need to show flexibility in ending the conflict. They owe it to the people of Afghanistan who have suffered enormously during the last three decades of fighting. Pakistan and regional countries have been and will continue to support the Taliban and Afghan government in figuring out a solution, and also help them rebuild the country after the US forces complete their exit. It is a now or never opportunity for them.
The writer is a freelance contributor.