Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had productive meetings with US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton in which whole range of issues pertaining to bilateral relations, peace in Afghanistan and matters pertaining to regional security in the context of Indo-Pak relations came under discussion. The foreign minister in his meeting with Washington’s security advisor briefed his host about the rising aggressive posturing of India in the South Asian region underscoring that Islamabad remained committed to engaging New Delhi in a comprehensive peace dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute. It was agreed that continued cooperation between Pakistan and the United States was in the interest of regional peace and security in South Asia.
The meetings in themselves represented realization on both sides to make a new beginning in the bilateral relations and remain engaged in finding a solution to the Afghan conundrum. Qureshi made a forceful reiteration of Pakistan’s long-held view that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and it could only be resolved through negotiations. He maintained that Pakistan wanted to work with the US to bring peace and prosperity in Afghanistan, while the US President Donald Trump’s administration sought Islamabad’s help in negotiating talks with the Taliban.
The outcome of these interactions suggests that US is cognizant of Pakistan’s importance and the role that it can play in bringing peace in Afghanistan as well as agrees to her stance for a negotiated settlement. While welcoming Trump administration’s new initiative the foreign minister rightly stressed that Pakistan would continue to support the efforts for an Afghan-led and Afghan owned peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan as Pakistan considered peace in Afghanistan vital for her own long term stability.
The foreign minister was also right on money to point out that in the context of peace in Afghanistan the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) offered the most effective mechanism to promote mutually beneficial cooperation between the two neighbouring states. Unfortunately the relations between the two countries have been marred by mutual mistrust. The ice however began melting with the visit of the former Prime Minister to Afghanistan in April on the invitation of the Afghan President. Both the leaders discussed whole range of bilateral relations including peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, return of Afghan refugees, regional connectivity and bilateral trade. It was agreed between the two sides that peace, prosperity and stability of the two countries were interlinked and they also reaffirmed their commitment to regional connectivity as they had done in Herat on 23rd February 2018 while jointly inaugurating the entry of TAPI Gas Pipeline from Turkmenistan into Afghanistan.
Consequently the two countries concluded Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) on 14 May in the fourth meeting held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Islamabad, envisaging formation of six working groups. It was a welcome development because dialogue and continued engagement are the essential ingredients in regards to resolving conflicts and removing kinks in relations between the states.
This was followed by a visit to Pakistan by a multi-agency Afghan delegation led by National Security Advisor of Afghanistan Mohammad Hanif Atmar visited Pakistan in the last week of May and held talks with the COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The talks focused on implementation of APAPPS. The Afghan side was appreciative of Pakistan’s initiative to prepare the framework document for improving cooperation and coordination between the two countries on a host of confidence building and substantive measures. The two sides agreed to fast track the formulation of working groups, especially on bilateral security cooperation and to undertake measures that would assist both sides in tackling of violence by the terrorist entities.
At the invitation of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani the COAS General Bajwa also visited Afghanistan where he held one-on-one meeting with the Afghan President held parleys with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and the commander Resolute Support Mission General John Nicholson. The talks focused on the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan, measures needed to check rise of Daesh and protecting the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The redeeming factor of the visit was that the US General acknowledged the fact that Pakistan desired success of US-NATO forces and peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The reality is that terrorist groups present a threat to both the countries. Peace in the two countries can only be guaranteed if Pakistan and Afghanistan work together to root out terrorism. Both countries also need to be on guard against retaliatory attacks from the TTP. Even though it has become a relative non-entity, the terror organization still holds some influence, and according to reports it allies itself with other groups active in Pakistan including the Daesh and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. For the success of APAPPS it is imperative for the Afghan government to exhibit its unruffled commitment in that regard and also for US to support it sincerely if it really wants peace in that war torn country, elimination of the menace of terrorism and an honourable exit from Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s credential as a faithful and sincere partner in taking the war on terror to its logical end and promotion of Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation are beyond reproach. It has made relentless efforts at the bilateral and multilateral forums in that regard. It is regrettable to note that the US in spite of acknowledging the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the fight against terrorism has continued to doubt the indiscriminate action taken by her against all the terrorist outfits blaming her of allowing terrorist sanctuaries on its soil. The US will have to trust Pakistan and abandon her attempts to blame her for its own failures in Afghanistan. Both the USA and Afghanistan need to encourage and support the efforts by Pakistan to fight terrorism and restoration of peace in the region.
The regional security is threatened by volatile situation in Afghanistan and what India is doing in IHK. The resolution of the Afghan conflict only will not ensure peace in the region. Efforts also are required by the UN and countries like US and its allies to nudge the process of amity between Pakistan and India and the ultimate resolution of the disputes between the two, including the core issue of Kashmir. India will have to be stopped from state terrorism in IHK as well as in Pakistan. Terrorism is terrorism wherever it occurs and whoever commits it. Discriminatory attitudes and actions in that regard by US are not going to help the cause of peace and security in the region.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.