Pakistan and Afghan Peace

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A major milestone was reached on February 29, 2020, when the Taliban and the US completed an agreement that was the first step towards a larger intra-Afghan peace deal.

Some of the crucial requirements of this deal included a US pledge to slowly remove all troops (US or foreign) from Afghanistan, a Taliban commitment to stop terrorist groups from using Afghan territory, and strong support for intra-Afghan peace negotiations. Getting all parties to agree to a negotiated peace settlement is a mammoth task. Even if both the Taliban and the Afghan government are willing to come to the negotiating table, there are serious issues that need to be resolved, including power-sharing, role of Islam within the state, and women’s rights.

Pakistan has been trying hard to dispel the false image of being a country associated with terrorism. Despite Pakistan being accused of “lies and deceit” in 2018, by President Trump, it has become a key player in the intra-Afghan peace talks. Pakistan was able to expedite and facilitate these talks because of its relationship with both the Taliban and the US.

For Pakistan, there are multiple benefits for facilitating peace in Afghanistan. Turmoil doesn’t suit the long-term interests of Pakistan and hence it has been consistently promoting the intra-Afghan peace process. Islamabad also does not want there to be a slipshod withdrawal of US presence in Afghanistan as there was post-Soviet war. It would also be detrimental for Pakistan were there to be a government in Kabul that is friendlier with India than with Pakistan. Pak-Afghan relations have seen a lot of ups and downs; hence it is essential for them to focus on their diplomacy and to facilitate this peace process.

There have been claims that Pakistan would like a power-sharing agreement between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban because this would be in Islamabad’s favour. However, there are some factual errors to this claim; namely that the Pak-Taliban relationship is not without its share of ups and downs and secondly, it does not want an Islamic state akin to the Afghanistan of the 90s sharing its borders. The fallout from that has caused a domino effect of terrorism that Pakistan has only very recently been able to control.

The current direction of events is exactly what Pakistan needs. It is essential for Islamabad to remain a central player during the intra-Afghan peace talks. Over the last few decades, the Pak-Afghan relationship has become tricky. There has been growing distrust and accusations of cross-border terror facilitation. However, there seems to be a thaw in relations recently.

High Council for National Reconciliation Leader Abdullah Abdullah is also seen as a personality that can usher in a new era of Pak-Afghan relations. Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan, Mohammed Umer Daudzai, has stated that he would like to “mend political relations” between the two countries. He emphasized that after Pakistan’s large role in the Afghan peace process, his main focus is to facilitate lasting peace In Afghanistan and to deepen the strong ties that exist between the two countries.

However Herculean the task was to get the Taliban to come to the negotiating table with the US and the Afghan government, an even more impossible task lies ahead. Now the stakeholders have to successfully initiate, maintain, and conclude the entire intra-Afghan peace process.

There are a few questions that arise regarding this process: how difficult will it be to get the Taliban to accept a power-sharing arrangement with a government that they have consistently refused to recognize and even declared their intentions to overthrow? How does Pakistan factor in the talks, moving forward?

This is a great opportunity for Pakistan to strengthen the ties that may have weakened over the years. It needs to adopt a strategy of smart diplomacy. There is a great amount of distrust and bitterness that has soured the relationship between these two countries.

Economic and social inroads need to be made into Afghanistan to improve the image of Pakistan in the eyes of the younger generations. The SDPI Board’s chairperson Ambassador (r) Shafqat Kakakhel, has stated: “there is a huge opportunity for medical tourism between the two countries…we should not think in terms of economic depth rather than of strategic depth, where we have around a trade potential of $5 billion.” Pakistan’s aim should not just be the establishment of peace; rather, it should also work towards a sustained peace in Afghanistan and the region.

Keeping in view all these hurdles and roadblocks, there is always a danger of the entire process crumbling or getting stuck in a quagmire. The US is under a lot of domestic pressure to withdraw from Afghanistan and Russia, India, Iran, and Pakistan are all locked in a competition for influence within Afghanistan. There are, as they say, too many cooks in this kitchen. The outcome of these negotiations could be a harbinger of regional stability or instability for decades to come.

The writer is a research officer at the Institute of Regional Studies.

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