The visit of US Special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to Prime Minister Imran Khan was watched with bated breath not just by Pakistanis, but by everyone in the region. Mr Khalilzad called upon the prime minister as the situation in Afghanistan worsened.
The visit shows more than anything that while the United States may have exited Afghanistan, they are still very much interested in any developments in the region. While a meeting of this sort could on better days be considered a regular affair, Khalilzad came for a very brief trip on Monday and left immediately after talking to Imran Khan.
The circumstances seem urgent because they are. Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad from Qatar where the Taliban and Afghan government representatives have held two days of talks that ended late Sunday, with a promise by the warring sides to meet again. The visit was also hours after Afghanistan withdrew its ambassador from Pakistan late Sunday after the diplomat’s daughter was brutally attacked last week. To further stress how serious the matter is, the US envoy also met with Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa but nothing was immediately known of their discussions.
One thing is clear: Pakistan must immediately do all that it can to help give Afghanistan stability. Another takeover by the Taliban will mean nothing but destruction and international backlash for Pakistan that it cannot in good conscience afford right now. To be fair, Prime Minister Imran Khan has made his stance on the matter quite clear and said that the US announcing a date for its exit from Afghanistan meant that leverage at the negotiating table was lost and the Taliban gained momentum. With an exit date in sight, there was little that could be done. The Taliban forces have bated their time over the past two decades and have emerged strong once again after the US exit. With an almost clear path to victory in sight, they will feel even more emboldened. That clear path can be made more difficult by Pakistan acting proactively, and the other side of the negotiating table can gain some much needed momentum.
With missiles landing close to the Afghan Presidential Palace as President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s ruling brass prayed their Eid namaz, the Afghan government did put on a brave face. However, without much needed assistance, they cannot keep it up for much longer.