While the USA is hastily withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have increased attacks to make further territorial gains. The Afghan government says the army can hold its own, but military experts warn of a tough fight ahead. According to UN estimates, nearly 1,800 civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of 2021 during fighting between government forces and Taliban insurgents. Meanwhile the peace process remains stalled while the Afghan politicians are divided.
Last month Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel that the USA now plays only a minor role in Afghanistan, and the question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistani hands. Lacking competence to handle foreign relations issues, Prime Minister Imran Khan has handed over the subject to the Army. This explains why the US top officials make a beeline to GHQ, ignoring the Foreign Minister and the PM. During the last six months the COAS has had telephonic talks with the US Secretaries of Defense and State, while among those who called on him at GHQ included the Centcom chief, the Commander Resolute Support Mission Afghanistan, Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and chargé d’affaires Angela Aggeler. All discussed issues connected with Afghanistan after the departure of the US and allied troops. The meetings did not draw attention.
The meeting of CIA director William J. Burns with COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed has however has raised eyebrows. Unlike visits by other US officials, this was kept secret till The New York Times spilled the beans. Further, it came at a time when the USA is desperately looking for bases in the region. The CIA chief reportedly did not bring up the base issue during his trip to Pakistan. As the CIA has gained notoriety for dirty tricks, the visit was bound to give rise to apprehensions. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has categorically denied any possibility of allowing a US base on Pakistani territory. But he lacks credibility. It is time the Parliament is briefed on Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy by General Bajwa himself. In May 2011 then COAS Gen Ashfaque Parvez Kayani briefed a joint session of Parliament on the Abbottabad raid by the USA and in December 2017 General Bajwa briefed the Senate Committee of the Whole House on national security. Another briefing by him on Afghan policy can bring speculations to an end.