PAKISTAN has always supported Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process while extending its all-out political and moral support to Afghanistan. Last year witnessed some active political happenings for Afghanistan where peace process was again kicked off with hopes for peaceful Afghanistan. Though initially peace process seemed moving with slow pace, yet some major breakthroughs happened in 2020 regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan relations. It was the visit of the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Dr Abdullah Abdullah’s marked journey to Pakistan with his delegates which was as vital to the success of Afghan talks aimed at ending decades of war.
It not only provided an opportunity for wide-ranging exchange of views on the Afghan peace process and strengthening of Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations and people-to-people interaction. Later Pakistan also hosted Afghan Parliamentary delegation in October 2020 led by Speaker of the Wolsey Jirga (Afghan Parliament). Hence, Pakistan fully supported and intends to do all efforts for peace, stability and prosperity of the Afghan people. It is important to note that the Afghan peace talks come after a deal signed in February 2020 between the US and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, delineating the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan to end the longest military engagement of US in history. The Taliban have been remained key element in Afghanistan politics since their government was toppled from power since the US-led invasion in 2001 in Afghanistan.
The US-Taliban agreement signed in February had four key elements. First a Taliban guarantee that it will not allow foreign armed groups to use Afghanistan as a launch pad to conduct attacks, the complete withdrawal of the US-led forces, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a ceasefire. The intra-Afghan talks were initially set to begin in March 2020 but were delayed for six months because of a disagreement over a US-brokered prisoner exchange between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Last year on 12 September 2020, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban opened in Qatar’s capital with an objective of ending 20 years of war in Afghanistan with the agenda of focusing on permanent ceasefire, political future of Afghanistan and social equality. After the initiation of talks, in different ongoing rounds, most important thing and often considered at stake is the political future of Afghanistan after US withdrawal, law enforcement and security situation in Afghanistan and steps taken, for gender justice and social equality.
In December 2020 a delegation led by the head of Taliban’s political wing Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar visited Pakistan. In a statement issued by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said the visit was “part of Pakistan’s policy to reach out to key Afghan parties in the Afghan peace process with a view to facilitating the intra-Afghan negotiations”. Whereas the Afghan Foreign Ministry said in a statement the visit had taken place in consultation with the Afghan government to facilitate the peace process and that Kabul “appreciates these efforts.” Pakistan’ FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who met the Afghan delegation for the third time, mentioned that in meeting they had a comprehensive discussion on the Afghan peace negotiations, including the need for reduction in violence leading to a ceasefire. However, “Taliban cannot be held single-handedly responsible for it. All sides had a role to play.” He also said Pakistan has told Taliban that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan was not possible without a “comprehensive and inclusive settlement.” Taliban delegation also expressed their desire to end the decades of conflict that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives in Afghanistan.
Pakistan invited this Taliban delegation in consultation with Afghan government to take all stakeholders in confidence for reduction in violence and ceasefire efforts but what now concerning are the statements by the Afghan Vice President Amralluh Saleh who in his tweet said that “Mullah Baradar did three things in Karachi: inquired about his wounded Taliban comrades in Pakistani hospitals, visited a Taliban training centre, and thanked the Pakistani government for helping them”. However, it is important to highlight that meeting of Afghan refugees with Mullah Baradar is something which any Afghan leader or organization can do for its people as a goodwill gesture and moral support to them. But Amraullah Saleh tried to portray it another way via his tweet either to criticize Pakistan or Taliban while forgetting that it is the same Pakistan who is supporting initiatives for peaceful Afghanistan and with same Taliban leadership they are going to hold another round of talks sitting on the same table from 5th January 2021 onwards.
It is not the first time that such irresponsible statements are coming from a person sitting on a high position in Afghan political set up while having tilt or sympathies towards anti-Pakistan elements. Earlier he said that the root cause of the increase in explosions and suicides in Kabul and other provinces is the smuggled exports of 15,000 to 20,000 tons of ammonium nitrate from Pakistan, the chemical material that plays a key role in making improvised explosive devices. Amraullah Saleh remained head of NDS from 2001-2010 till he was removed from his position by Hamid Karzai, partly because of his opposition to Pakistan. His statements continue to strongly criticize Pakistan for allegedly sheltering the Taliban and his views about the recent visit also reflect that he is trying to point fingers towards neighbouring state which can be unproductive and detrimental to regional peace and his own country.
Another story which kept circulating about Saleh were the claims by Speaker Afghan Assembly Rahman Rahmani, who blamed Amraullah Saleh for running a death squad, involved in killing of politicians and journalists in Afghanistan. Earlier in one of his calls to police, he was heard of ordering killing of Afghan populace. Now by giving such baseless statements and spitting venom against Pakistan, he is giving a dent to peace process as a spoiler and this could be highly damaging to his own country, where he has been a strong critic of the US-initiated Taliban talks and at the beginning of it, he categorically refused to talk to the Taliban leadership. Importantly, Afghan government must not let him play role of spoiler where all stakeholders are making their best efforts for restoration of peace.
—The Islamabad-based writer works as Senior Coordinator at PAYF.