- The Taliban, the Afghan government, the USA and Pakistan must all be on the same page
Needless to emphasize that the intra-Afghan dialogue which has commenced in Doha is going to be a lengthy and complicated undertaking to reach a consensual future political arrangement in that country. Like the protracted and arduous path in firming up a peace deal between the USA and Taliban, the negotiations between the two Afghan interlocutors would require lot of patience, understanding and a spirit of accommodation on both sides. Therefore in view of the intricacies involved no time line can be given for the conclusion of this process. The signing of a peace agreement between the USA and Taliban and the commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue, has brought forth a historic opportunity for bringing peace in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan in an article published in Washington Post on September 26 has made a very realistic appraisal of the efforts for peace in Afghanistan, the need for patience in carrying forward the peace process , the benefits that the successful intra-Afghan dialogue holds for Afghanistan itself and the whole region, factors inimical to the success of the ongoing dialogue and the need for the USA to hold back the withdrawal of its troops till the time of the anticipated outcome of the intra-Afghan dialogue. He also dwelt at length at the fallout of continued conflict in Afghanistan and the acts of terrorism by the terrorist entities on the country itself, the region and Pakistan, as well as the cost that the latter had paid in fighting the scourge of terrorism and hosting four million Afghan refugees for nearly four decades.
The visit is a part of the efforts to evaluate progress on the intra-Afghan dialogue and discuss the way forward. Pakistan not only wants a political settlement in Afghanistan but also a collective effort to help Afghanistan in the post-war era as is evident from Prime Minister’s reiteration “It is also time to start planning for the “day after” — how can the world help a postwar Afghanistan transition to sustainable peace?”
The thrust of his article was rightly on the irrefutable realities about peace in Afghanistan being essential for peace in Pakistan, a realization which has been the driving force in Pakistan’s efforts to promote reconciliation in Afghanistan. Few would contest his observation in this regard which goes like this “This experience taught us two important lessons. First, that we were too closely intertwined with Afghanistan by geography, culture and kinship for events in that country not to cast a shadow on Pakistan. We realized Pakistan will not know real peace until our Afghan brothers and sisters are at peace. We also learned that peace and political stability in Afghanistan could not be imposed from the outside through the use of force. Only an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process, which recognizes Afghanistan’s political realities and diversity, could produce a lasting peace”.
In regards to intra-Afghan dialogue he was right on money to say “We have arrived at a rare moment of hope for Afghanistan and for our region. On Sept. 12, delegations from the Afghan government and the Taliban finally sat down in Doha, Qatar, to begin negotiations toward a political settlement that would bring the war in Afghanistan to an end. The intra-Afghan negotiations are likely to be even more difficult, requiring patience and compromise from all sides. Progress could be slow and painstaking; there may even be the occasional deadlock, as Afghans work together for their future. At such times, we would do well to remember that a bloodless deadlock on the negotiating table is infinitely better than a bloody stalemate on the battlefield. All those who have invested in the Afghan peace process should resist the temptation for setting unrealistic timelines. A hasty international withdrawal from Afghanistan would be unwise. We should also guard against regional spoilers who are not invested in peace and see instability in Afghanistan as advantageous for their own geopolitical ends. The first step toward that peace has been taken in Doha. Not seeing through the Afghanistan peace process or abandoning it for any reason would be a great travesty. For Pakistan, regional peace and stability remain keys to realizing the collective aspirations of our people for a better future. We are committed to multilateral collaboration to achieve this.”
It is pertinent to point out that Pakistan, notwithstanding the skepticism repeatedly expressed by the Afghan government, has been making determined efforts to promote Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation in Afghanistan and has also remained engaged with the USA persuading it to opt for a settlement on the negotiating table, rather than on the battlefield. It firmly opposed the new policy announced by President Trump for Afghanistan and South Asia. Pakistan’s perseverance with this position finally won the day for her and the Trump Administration ultimately realized the futility of continuing to force a solution through the barrel of the gun. The USA asked Pakistan for help in facilitating a dialogue with the Taliban, which eventually commenced and concluded with the peace agreement between them. The contribution made by Pakistan in this regard has been repeatedly acknowledged by the US Administration. This development has also helped in arresting nosedive in relations between the two countries. The two countries almost seem on the same page in regards to the expected outcome of the intra-Afghan dialogue. Imran Khan’s contention that like the USA, Pakistan does not want the blood and treasure we have shed in the war against terrorism to be in vain amply reflects this unanimity of views.
Pakistan undoubtedly has an abiding commitment to peace in Afghanistan which it views as being in her own interest and of the region as well. As the Prime Minister said, “Pakistan will continue to support the Afghan people in their quest for a unified, independent and sovereign Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and its neighbors. Pakistan believes that peace negotiations should not be conducted under coercion and urges all parties to reduce violence. Just as the Afghan government has recognized the Taliban as a political reality, it is hoped that the Taliban would recognize the progress Afghanistan has made.”
While Pakistan remains engaged with the Taliban it has also invited Abdullah Abdullah, the Chief Executive of Afghanistan and the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, to Pakistan. During his visit, Abdullah will call on the President, Prime Minister, Chairman Senate, Speaker National Assembly and Foreign Minister as well as other dignitaries, besides also delivering a keynote address at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad and also having an interaction with the media. The visit is a part of the efforts to evaluate progress on the intra-Afghan dialogue and discuss the way forward. Pakistan not only wants a political settlement in Afghanistan but also a collective effort to help Afghanistan in the post-war era as is evident from Prime Minister’s reiteration “It is also time to start planning for the “day after” — how can the world help a postwar Afghanistan transition to sustainable peace?”