HISTORIC intra-Afghan dialogue unfolded on the 12th of September 2020 in Doha, Qatar with high hopes among all stakeholders. After all these talks are crucial for restoration of peace in Afghanistan and the US leaving Afghan soil by mid next year. Certainly, Afghan people are hopeful of new change once the USA and its allied forces vacate their homeland and they will be able to run their country with their own choices. So far Afghan peace talks are moving with slow pace but yet it is a great achievement in the sense that it brought all stakeholders: Afghans, Taliban and USA representatives altogether to the dialogue table. War-torn Afghanistan is looking forward to the best options by parties who have to decide the future state of affairs where all stakeholders’ only agenda is to restore peace forever. So there are high expectations and hopes from peace talks and inclusion of women in these talks shows that they will be given desired representation in all walks of life in future and their apprehensions will be addressed. Pakistan’s role in restoring armistice and amity in Afghanistan has always remained active and prominent as peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan. Dr.Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) of Afghanistan is on visit to Pakistan on 28-30 September 2020, accompanied by high-level delegates and members from HCNR. In his first visit to Pakistan as Chairman HCNR, Dr.Abdullah will meet President, PM, Army Chief and other dignitaries for exchanging views on Afghan peace process and strengthening of Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations and enhancing people-to-people contact.
Pakistan welcomes the visit by senior Afghan officials as “Winds of Change.” Last year when President Ashraf Ghani visited Pakistan it was considered an ice-breaking and a new beginning of Pak-Afghan bilateral ties. Both Afghan President and PM Imran Khan “agreed to open a new chapter of friendship and cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, based on mutual trust and harmony for the benefit of the two peoples and countries and for advancing the cause of peace, stability and prosperity in the region” and it is still continuing on positive notes from both sides. Pakistan has always sustained Afghanistan in difficult times and has supported that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process was and is the only viable option to end decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. That is the reason, we now see that all Afghan ethnicities’ representatives are part of the peace process, as they are the ones who have to decide their future, not dictated upon them by force.
For peace in the South Asian region, Pakistan has played a leading role in maintaining stability and restoring peace whether it was needed on its own soil and now in Afghanistan. But unfortunately, India which claims itself being the largest democracy is seen as a spoiler in Afghanistan case. Though India claims that it has facilitated Afghanistan’s rebuilding but certain elements from India can act as spoiler again for these peace talks. So stakeholders have to be careful for those elements who can try to sabotage peace initiatives. Recently Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, while talking about Afghan Peace Process, also warned against “spoilers from within and without”, adding that they will pose formidable challenges for peace to prevail in the region and “constant vigilance will be required to guard against their machinations”. FM further said that Pakistan is happy that it has played a role in facilitating peace talks between the Taliban and the US in Doha earlier this year also and stressed on all parties and stakeholders in the Afghanistan peace process to seize this “historic opportunity” for peace in the country.
For regional peace and stability, China and Russia have assured their due cooperation and facilitation. While supporting the war-free Afghanistan’s cause, China’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Ambassador Liu Jian called on Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood where Pakistan reaffirmed its steadfast support for Afghan peace process and commitment to forge closer bilateral relationship and resolve to enhance China-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral cooperation. In his powerful message, PM Imran Khan on the platform of UNGA raised voice for peaceful Afghanistan and said that Pakistan’s desire for peace in our region is also manifest in our efforts to promote a political solution in Afghanistan and all stakeholders must work together to secure an inclusive and comprehensive political agreement.
Pakistan apart from peace restoration efforts for Afghanistan has facilitated health, education, infrastructure and other social development programmes for the people’s welfare. That’s why it is more important for both Pakistan and Afghanistan to enhance people to people and business opportunities aside with government to government and political efforts. In this regard, youth exchange programs, arts and cultural delegates’ visits, business consortiums, media workshops and trainings, visa free access, re-producing historic literature in languages of both sides, culinary festivals on special occasions/national days and utilizing shared Islamic and historical values can surely help in exploring new avenues of cooperation by sending-off past misperception and moving forward with confidence to build peaceful Afghanistan. Pak-Afghan Youth Forum (PAYF), in the form of an independent think tank, is an initiative by civil society to bridge the gap between people from both sides and work more on public diplomacy. These track-II diplomatic efforts are more forthcoming by people as being a reachable and easily accessible platform. Likewise with the visit of Dr.Abdullah Abdullah to Pakistan, winds of change have started moving as a sign of zephyr in South Asia.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.