Army chief conveyed importance of conducive environment for re-initiating Afghan peace process; Pakistani side is concerned about the Afghan security establishment thwarting a renewed process
Pakistan and the United States have agreed to work together for an early resumption of the stalled Afghan reconciliation process.
The understanding was reached during the recently concluded visit of Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif to the United States where he held extensive discussions with key figures of the Obama administration, including Vice President Joe Biden.
“There is a sort of agreement that there is a need to move on Afghan reconciliation very quickly depending on the conditions,” a senior diplomatic source, who had been briefed on the trip, told media in a background briefing on Saturday.
Afghanistan was the focus of Gen Sharif’s visit, during which he also discussed Pakistan’s strained ties with India, military cooperation, strategic (nuclear) issues and other regional matters.
“The general quite candidly conveyed his views on the issue, both the political and the strategic perspective, to his interlocutors,” the source said.
Gen Sharif is believed to have communicated Pakistan’s fears in accepting the facilitation role that it is expected to play for reviving the process. The Pakistani side is primarily concerned about the Afghan security establishment thwarting a renewed process.
Inter Services Public Relations Director General Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, too, had in one of his tweets on the army chief’s visit said that “requirement of conducive environment for re-initiating Afghan peace process” had been emphasised.
At least three major initiatives – the first attempt in February to kick-start the reconciliation process, the ISI-NDS (the Afghan intelligence agency) cooperation agreement in May, and the reconciliation process itself – Pakistan believes, failed because of conspiracies hatched by elements in Afghanistan, who are opposed to a political settlement with the Taliban.
The two sides (Pakistan and US), however, have not set any timeframe for getting back on track the talks process, which was disrupted after the Afghan intelligence leaked the news about the death of Mullah Omar days before Islamabad was set to host the second round of reconciliation dialogue.
Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan also got strained because of the suspension of the peace dialogue and the accompanying increase in violence. Resultantly the relationship, which had undergone a major transformation earlier in the year, once again slipped back into compulsive mistrust of each other.
“It would have been imprudent to set the timeframe without getting the Afghan government and China on board,” the source explained. China, it should be recalled, has been lately playing a proactive role in Afghanistan and participated in the first round of talks on July 7 as an observer along with the US.
However, the source said it was expected that a “lot of ground would be covered during the Heart of Asia Conference”, which Pakistan is co-hosting with Afghanistan on Dec 7-8. President Ashraf Ghani is also rumoured to be expected in Islamabad on this occasion.
Chinese Special Envoy on Afghanistan Ambassador Deng Xijun, who visited Pakistan last week, too had offered to facilitate the Afghan dialogue, provided other stakeholders agreed to the proposal.
A concerted diplomatic push for resumption of the reconciliation process is clearly afoot with both the US and Pakistani sides calling for a an early resumption of the process at the conclusion of the army chief’s visit.
General Sharif’s visit came weeks after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Washington. The premier, during his visit, held dialogues on a number of issues of bilateral interests with US President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other US cabinet members.
Army chief’s visit to the US last year focused on the military operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. The army chief had said during the visit that Pakistan Army was targeting all militant hideouts without any discrimination and the operation was aimed at defeating the militancy squarely.
Contrary to normal practice, Gen Sharif was invited to the Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon to address two Senate committees, intelligence and armed services.
The two committees issued no statement after these meetings, but DG ISPR Asim Bajwa did send out a series of tweets, giving his version of the proceedings.
According to these tweets, two key members of the Intelligence Committee, Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein noted that Pakistan Army’s “perseverance and commitment had degraded militancy” in the tribal areas.
They acknowledged that Pakistan had “turned the tide of terrorism’ and assured Gen Sharif of US support and cooperation in eradicating terrorism and extremism.
In his remarks at the committee meeting, Gen Sharif said that terrorism was a global threat, which warranted coordinated global response.
At the Senate Armed Services Committee, he received full protocol and was welcomed by Chairman John McCain, the ranking Democrat, Senator Jack Reed and other senior members.
“Appreciating longstanding Pakistan-US defence cooperation, Senator McCain underlined the need to further reinforce this partnership in view of emerging developments,” Bajwa tweeted.
In his remarks, Gen Sharif explained Pakistan’s perspective on regional security issues and highlighted the need for stepped-up Pakistan-Afghan border management and sustained cooperation to deal with emerging threats, Bajwa said.
In a separate statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said that at Wednesday’s meeting with the army chief, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter also talked about the Haqqani Network, telling the army chief that the United States “feels strongly about the need to go after groups like the Haqqani Network that threaten the United States, threaten, certainly, US forces operating in Afghanistan”.
They both talked about “the need to address that and other groups that posed a threat not only to Afghanistan, but to Pakistan itself”, Cook had said.
The army chief also met US Vice President Joe Biden during the visit. The two leaders met in the Roosevelt Room and discussed “bilateral relations and the security situation” in South Asia, a senior official told journalists.
Stability in Pakistan’s neighbour Afghanistan has spiralled after a Taliban surge in recent months, and President Obama announced in October that Washington will keep thousands of soldiers in the country past 2016.