- The deal long in the making
After months of tenuous negotiations between Taliban and the USA, the two sides have finally struck a deal— signed on Saturday 29 February at Doha— which paves the way for eventual peace in Afghanistan that has remained elusive for the last four decades, more so after the US blitzkrieg in 2011. The deal signed in the presence of leaders from 50 countries, including Pakistan, binds the USA to pull out all its troops as well as of its allies within 14 months. The drawdown process will begin with the USA reducing its troop level to 8600 in the first 135 days and pulling out its forces from five bases. The rest of the forces will be withdrawn in the next nine and half months.
Under the agreement Afghan government will release 5000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1000 personnel of the Afghan Security forces, and the Taliban will severe all links with terrorist entities and would not allow the Afghan soil to be used against the USA and its allies. The USA has made a commitment not to intervene in the internal affairs of Afghanistan in future. The agreement binds the Taliban to start an intra-Afghan dialogue from March 1st.
A similar agreement was also signed on the same day in Kabul between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper which endorsed all the points of the deal between Taliban and the USA. This plan is contingent upon the Taliban fulfilling its commitments under the US-Taliban agreement.
The foregoing developments could not have been possible without the role that Pakistan has played under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table so that they engaged with the USA to find an everlasting peace in Afghanistan which was not only in the interest of the warring parties and Afghanistan but also the countries of the region, including Pakistan, which had suffered in varying degrees due to the continued conflict in that country and the phenomenon of terrorism.
The Afghan government, the Taliban and other stakeholders will have to exhibit the utmost sagacity and foresight in arriving at a consensus on the future of Afghanistan. As rightly pointed out by Pakistan, there are still some elements who would like to sabotage the process and all stakeholders need to thwart those machinations
When US President Donald Trump announced his policy on Afghanistan and South Asia, suggesting a military solution to the conflict and also accused Pakistan of playing a duplicitous role, things looked really gloomy as far as finding a solution to the Afghan conundrum went. It sent the relations between Pakistan and the USA into a nosedive . Prime Minister Imran Khan not only out rightly rejected the policy announced by President Trump but also firmly held that there was no military solution possible to the conflict in Afghanistan in view of the fact that the USA had failed to subdue the Taliban in the previous 18 years with the use of military force and repeating the same mistake would not deliver the desired results. He also committed Pakistan’s continued support for a negotiated settlement between the USA and the Taliban and promoting intra-Afghan dialogue, fully backed by the military leadership of the country. Not only that, he also declared in unequivocal terms that Pakistan would no more fight others’ wars.
Thanks heavens that the firmness with which Pakistan stuck to its declared stance made the US President to change his outlook on Afghanistan and he came to realize importance of Pakistan’s role in the fight against terrorism, and of her efforts to facilitate a negotiated solution to the conflict and promoting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation in Afghanistan. That realization was instrumental to put the relations between the two countries on the path of a renewed bonhomie. Pakistan was asked to facilitate talks between the USA and the Taliban. Through the efforts of the Prime Minister supported by the military leadership, the two parties finally agreed to start a dialogue at Doha where the Taliban had their political office. But as they say, there is many a slip betwixt cup and lip, and just when the two parties seemed to have made considerable progress and the vibes emanating from Doha suggested the signing of the deal soon, President Trump pulled the plug on the talks over the killing of an American soldier in an incident in Kabul.
Pakistan felt really dismayed over this sudden disruption. However it urged the stakeholders to re-engage, maintaining that there was no military solution to the conflict and that Pakistan looked for optimized engagement following earliest resumption of talks. It also reminded them that Pakistan had been facilitating the peace and reconciliation process in good faith, and as a shared responsibility encouraging all sides to remain engaged with sincerity of purpose.
The sense of concern shown by Pakistan over the disruption of the peace process was irreproachable in view of the fact that it had the potential to push Afghanistan into an un-ending political crisis and perennial factional conflict, with debilitating fall out for the neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan. Whether President Trump took this step due to the reason enunciated in his tweet or in the backdrop of reports of refusal by the US Secretary of State to sign the agreement and the dissatisfaction shown by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the contents of the deal, the development did not augur well for peace in Afghanistan and the region. President Trump also hinted at the possibility of US withdrawal even without a deal which was an ominous proposition.
Doing so, without a deal between the Taliban and the USA on drawdown of US troops and the firming up of the future political set-up in Afghanistan through intra-Afghan dialogue, would surely have plunged the country into unending turmoil with devastating impact on Afghanistan itself and the countries of the region. That indeed was a dreadful prospect.
Behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts by Pakistan succeeded in convincing both parties to re-start the dialogue, which has culminated into the much needed agreement to end the conflict paving the way for US withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is pertinent to point out that the efforts made by Pakistan in this regard were repeatedly acknowledged and appreciated by President Trump and he paid tributes to Prime Minister Imran Khan as a visionary statesman. During his visit to India recently he made it a point to dilate on the USA’s good friendly relations with Pakistan and her efforts in fighting terrorism which indicates the success of the policies pursued by Pakistan and her efforts to facilitate a negotiated solution to the Afghan conflict.
It is also noteworthy that on the eve of the signing of the deal, representative of the Taliban in his remarks thanked Pakistan for the role that it had played in facilitating the interaction between the two parties. Even the Afghan President speaking at a ceremony held to sign a deal with the USA on the same day could not help appreciating the contribution made by Pakistan in this regard; a welcome departure from his anti-Pakistan rhetoric in the run-up to the dialogue. The deal between the USA and the Taliban is a springboard for peace in Afghanistan. However the Afghan government, the Taliban and other stakeholders will have to exhibit the utmost sagacity and foresight in arriving at a consensus on the future of Afghanistan. As rightly pointed out by Pakistan, there are still some elements who would like to sabotage the process and all stakeholders need to thwart those machinations.