- Pak-sponsored February 18 meeting fails to materialise
When the federal information minister announced, and the Afghan Taliban spokesman concurred, on the hosting and attending of talks between the US and Taliban representatives in Islamabad on February 18, it was considered another welcome link in the chain of vigorous ongoing Afghan peace initiatives. But the much desired dialogue never took place, and in view of Foreign Office silence, the real reasons behind the embarrassing diplomatic faux pas remain shrouded in mystery. The Taliban negotiators have claimed, a bit dubiously, of UN-US imposed travel sanctions being the hurdle, the US has not commented officially on the issue, while the ‘quick response’ Pakistani foreign minister is no doubt too engrossed in the MBS visit to shed light on the inexplicably suspended US-Afghan Islamabad meeting. Suspicion must ultimately fall on belligerent Afghan government attitude for scuttling of these talks.
The consistent and categorical exclusion of Kabul from Afghan peace process on Taliban insistence, as the latter considers them mere ‘puppets’ of the occupation forces, have no doubt bred anger, frustration and sense of helplessness in the ineffective Afghan government. But the latter swallowed such slights in the expectation of being included in negotiations at a later stage, and perhaps because recent meetings were held in ‘neutral’ UAE or Qatar. Pakistan played a prominent role in facilitating these conclaves, which fact was freely acknowledged by US peace envoy Zilmay Khalilzad, and PM Imran Khan too went out of his way in showing sincerity and commitment to ending the long drawn conflict. But Pakistan still remains a bogeyman for Afghan government hardliners, prompting them to send a knee-jerk-reaction letter to the UNSC, condemning the proposed Islamabad talks as a violation of Afghan sovereignty and implicit recognition of a terrorist group which strives to undermine Afghan security and stability. It appears that inveterate anti-Pakistan, anti-Taliban hawks such as Amrullah Saleh and Asadullah Khalid, the ministers of interior and defense respectively, who were controversially appointed in December 2018 ostensibly to help incumbent President Ashraf Ghani regain his job in the July 20 ,2019 elections, are now claiming their anti-Pakistan pound of flesh But hopefully the present peace process is irreversible.