Pak Role in Afghan Peace Process By Sikandar Noorani

RESTORATION of peace in Afghanistan is undoubtedly a top priority matter for Pakistan on many understandable accounts. PM Imran Khan, in his recently published Op-Ed in Washington Post, very rightly reminded the US and rest of the concerned quarters about the heavy losses of Pak-Afghan masses for the misadventures of global powers. Back in the 90s, sudden vanishing of the US pushed the Afghan society into an undesired violent conflict. This bitter history of unplanned hasty withdrawal must not be repeated in present scenario. It is not that only Islamabad urging the US to stay firm on ground till the situation stabilizes rather every sane stakeholder wishes the same. Chief negotiator of Kabul government for peace talks, Abdullah Abdullah, has also asked the US to avoid hasty departure prior to successful completion of peace process. Complex process of formal intra-Afghan talks will begin after consensus on agenda. Despite exhaustive sessions, consensus on agenda is still awaited. The Taliban are not in any mood to compromise on their principled stance about the legitimacy of Kabul government. It is a well-known fact that at any stage of prolonged unrest, Taliban never agreed to hold talks with Kabul government considering it an illegitimate regime. Similar stance was recently repeated from Taliban side by denying the possibility of meeting with President Ashraf Ghani once he visited Doha on the invitation of Qatari Emir.

Taliban’s insistence to accept their deal with the US as a key for formal Intra-Afghan talks is in fact aimed to avoid direct engagement with the Kabul government as representative of Afghan society. Objections were raised by the non-Taliban quarters on Shariah law or choice of jurisprudence and demands surfaced for Shia personal laws. While facing troubles in finalizing the agenda, most of the stakeholders are hopeful for a positive acceleration towards the formal commencement of the talks. On the other hand, alarming surge in violence seems badly mounting on the nerves of all stakeholders. A strange scenario is building up in which every stakeholder group presenting itself as major victim of ongoing violence. Fixing the responsibility of recent violence on any party is not an easy affair in existing situation. There have been instances where unarmed non-combatant civilians were killed with Afghan forces air strikes. There can be no second opinion on this aspect that peace spoilers are the common foes of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unrest stretched over four decades cannot be wrapped up with impure intent and hollow verbal claims. Disunity among Afghan quarters in the past proved fatal for the whole society.

Opportunity lost today might push Afghan society in deeper dark pits from where possibilities of recovery would further diminish. Chief Afghan negotiator Abdullah Abdullah is visiting important neighbours and stakeholders. Unlike the past, he adopted positive and hopeful tone during his visit to Islamabad. His second trip was in India where he maintained the past warmth and lauded Indian supportive stance towards Afghanistan. Mysteriously, at this critical juncture of Doha talks, India is avoiding lofty claims probably in an undesired acknowledgement of Pakistan’s stronger grip on peace process. This silence on part of India is not thick enough to shroud her real coercive intents. New Delhi is just in search of right opportune moment to turn the tide against Pakistan. Complex tug of war between global players in regional arena is directly affecting peace matrix in Afghanistan. Quad countries Foreign Ministers met in Tokyo to analyze the growing impact of China in entire region. Though, President Trump is adamant to pull out US troops expeditiously but in any way no exploitable space would be left behind for Beijing’s benefit. This aspect makes the whole situation more challenging and nerve testing for Pakistan. In addition to traditional rivalry against Pakistan, India is emerging as the sole anti-China regional power in the eyes of Washington.

There are a lot of provocative moves against Beijing with India in lead role. Afghanistan’s rapidly worsening situation is in fact an outcome of regional tension. Pakistan, being a major affected party, is striving hard for the success of dialogue. This realization has taken roots in the minds of Afghan and US officials that Pakistan has moved many miles to fulfil this shared responsibility. Pakistan has emerged as a true flag bearer of peace under extremely challenging regional scenario. It is about time for all stakeholders to mend their ways and expose the real spoilers. Afghanistan cannot afford further violence, proxies, destabilization and chaos. Restoration of peace is a joint Pak-Afghan objective which can only be attained through unified struggle. US should also avoid hasty pull out prior to presidential election. Sudden creation of power vacuum in a poorly governed society like Afghanistan will be detrimental to peace and stability. It is rightly expected from the US to play a stabilizing role in initial troubling period of Doha talks. Similarly, strategic ally India must be properly harnessed from playing coercive role against neighbours. It is beyond any doubt Pakistan has played a major role in setting up the dialogue table between rival quarters under extremely challenging and unfavourable environment.

—The writer is a freelancer who often contributes in national newspapers.


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