Afghan Peace Deal and Pakistan’s foreign policy triumph

Arooj Naveed

In a landmark development in Qatar, Afghanistan’s Taliban and the US have signed an agreement aimed at ending the nearly two-decade-long war in Afghanistan. The agreement signed in Qatar’s capital, Doha, could also result in US troops leaving Afghanistan within two 18 months.

With such a major development taking place in Pakistan’s backyard, with the US also appreciating Islamabad’s role in the peace deal, does this suggest that Pakistan, under PM Imran Khan, has achieved a major victory on its foreign policy front?

The Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI), since coming into power, has reshaped Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy. Even though still entangled in its domestic issues, the government seems to have achieved some success at the foreign policy front.

This success has been achieved through the active diplomatic ventures taken by the foreign ministry under the leadership of PM Imran Khan, the military leadership of Qamar Javed Bajwa and Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Pakistan’s foreign policy, under PM Khan, has been highlighted by the focus on a peaceful resolution to the Afghan war.

“Efforts in Afghanistan need to be made for ending the conflict”: This statement gained its strength in the form of efforts for peace process initiated in 2018 when the war in Afghanistan entered its 18th year and United State came towards resolving and reaching a peace settlement.

Pakistan, during the process, played the role of a “facilitator”. Following a formal request by President Donald Trump to PM Khan for working towards a political solution to end the conflict in Afghanistan, Pakistan made efforts to bring both the Taliban and the US administration on the dialogue table.

Similar efforts, for ending the Afghan conflict, had been made, previously. In 2015, former President Obama and PM Nawaz Sharif had called upon a logical approach for putting an end to the 15-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. However, the peace process had been met with irritants; the first being the condition placed by the Afghan Taliban’s for issuing a timeframe, which was to settle the issue of withdrawal for the ‘invading forces.’ The second was the deadly attacks staged by the Taliban during the month of August, under the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. The third factor was the lacklustre approach taken by the Afghan government itself.

Fast forward to 2019, and one could see history repeating itself. However, this time talks between the U.S. and the Taliban had been “the most productive, ever.” For the first time, as of July 7, 2019, an intra-Afghan dialogue had commenced and according to the Taliban, they were happy with the progress made.

President Trump also wanted to ‘warp up U.S. military involvement’ inside Afghanistan and looked forward to Pakistan’s cooperation for pressuring Afghan Taliban to come to terms for a permanent ceasefire and hold direct talks with the government of Afghanistan. In Washington, President Trump had praised efforts made by Pakistan for helping the US negotiate with the Taliban; saying that Pakistan was now respecting the American leaders and was exercising an influence on the insurgents. Trump was quoted as saying, “I think Pakistan can do a tremendous amount against, with respect to, Afghanistan. We have made a lot of progress over the past couple of weeks, and Pakistan has helped us made that progress.”

PM Imran Khan had also personally committed to the task saying that, “he himself would talk to Taliban”. However, the peace process still faced hindrances. On July 28th, 2019, the Afghan Taliban rejected a senior minister’s statement of holding talks with the Afghan government and stated that they were to proceed only if a deal with the U.S. on the withdrawal of troops was agreed upon.

In Qatar, the spokesperson for the Taliban, Suhail Shaheen said, “Intra-Afghan talks will start only after a foreign force withdrawal is announced.”  While Zalmay Khalilzad also stated that intra-Afghan talks were to commence only after the United Stated had concluded its own agreement with the Taliban.

Fast forward to 2020…The RIV (Reduction in Violence) pact has now been signed and the first step in the Afghan peace process has been achieved. It has been announced by the Taliban and the U.S. that “a week-long reduction in violence” would be observed.  President Donald Trump in a recently packed rally in India praised Pakistan for making “big progress” for reduction of tensions, more stability and establishment of harmony between South Asian nations.

How the peace process unfolds and in which direction, only time will tell. However, as of now, we are witnessing history in the making; a new decade in which USA’s longest fought war overseas, in its history, will come to an end. More importantly, Pakistan’s foreign office has also achieved a major success by helping the US and the Afghan government end one of the deadliest wars in human history.

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