- Serious move towards endgame?
President Donald Trump’s recent letter to PM Imran Khan was couched in tame diplomatic language, in welcome contrast to the sharp verbal excesses usually employed in his regular mode of communication, the angry tweet. An intense activity has followed since, with US envoy Zalmay Khalizad meeting the Pakistan PM during an ongoing whirlwind tour of neighbouring countries, the latter reiterating his strong support for negotiated Afghan peace without pre-conditions, and cognisant views being expressed by incoming CENTCOM chief Lt. Gen Kenneth McKenzie regarding Pakistan’s sensitivities in Afghanistan. But typical of confused American stance on its Afghan occupation, even as Khalilzad desperately attempts to build a consensus and bridges for an Afghan exit, the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, reportedly contrarily remarked that US forces would remain in Afghanistan to prevent terrorists regrouping and extracting revenge inside America. As US preoccupation with Eastern Europe and Indo-Pacific to contain Russia and China intensifies, a window of opportunity for Afghan peace perforce also opens up, one that demands utmost flexibility from all stake holders, especially Afghan government and Taliban, American clarity of vision, avoiding one-upmanship or claiming monopoly of the peace stance, and well-known ‘anglers’ being dissuaded from fishing in troubled Afghanistan to destabilise historic rivals.
With accelerated peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan the overwhelming chorus, the CENTCOM chief in a realistic vein shed the ‘do more’ refrain, instead emphasising Pakistan’s key role in facilitating Afghan talks, shared Washington-Islamabad strategic interest in long-term Afghan stability, ‘priority engagement’ with Pakistan, with a whiff of possible conditional revival of the military ties existing before President Trump’s new South Asia Strategy, but most importantly, the US General acknowledged Pakistan’s justified concerns about increasing Indian influence in the war-torn country, and allaying Pakistan’s existential threats, with a diplomatic agreement duly addressing Pakistan’s national interests. The major stumbling block in meaningful ties remains the militants operating along the Pak-Afghan border and their alleged safe havens, and Islamabad is also expected to play a more assertive role in coaxing the Taliban to the negotiating table. Will it be Afghan war or peace? The situation will no doubt ripen in a relatively short time.