Afghanistan Pakistan

Pakistan facilitates US-Taliban talks

By Imtiaz Gul

In the maze of negativity generated post general elections in July, some good news has begun greeting us all in form of the British Airways is coming back to Pakistan in June. The airline had suspended its operations in September 2008 in the aftermath of the Marriott Hotel bombing that (the author survived too along with so many others).

Moreover, recent delegations visiting Pakistan from various Western countries, too, have articulated categorical commitment to continue working with Pakistan for a better future. This future is to be raised on reforms that PM Khan has not only promised but is also determined to implement.

These reforms, one understands, are not only at the heart of negotiations with the IMF but most European countries wish that too. And here, their desire converges with the PTI’s vision for a people-centric reform process.

More importantly, accompanying this mellow mood is the occasionof rare intense negotiations in UAE among US, Taliban (and presumablyPakistani) representatives for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Precedingthis occasion was a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan by US President Trump,requesting facilitation for the process.

Pakistan has agreed to do so, only if the “finger-pointing” and strident blame-game would stop. Pressure and request cannot go hand in hand, PM Khan had reportedly told Trump Special Envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Since the US foots the bill of the entire Afghan government, one message to the Americans was also to nudge the National Unity Government (NUG) towards a silent participation in the reconciliation process. President Ghaai did previously publicly oppose direct US-Taliban talks but has since tagged along, despite his reservations.

Another message out of Islamabad is the categorical support to the Moscow process, which for the first time brought Taliban representative Abbas Stanakzai face to face with Haji Deen Mohammad, the head of the Afghan High Peace Council – both shaking hands and sitting under one roof.

 Pakistan’s facilitation – in form of the release of three Mullah Omar companions – and a quiet discreet squeeze on their families and businesses interests has also taken the process a step further and hence leading to the Doha/Abu Dhabi negotiations.

Diplomats in Islamabad may call it a “shift in gear,” or may even deride it as Pakistan’s U-turn, but what is wrong with such an approach?

Even President Trump U-turned when, following scathing attacks and foul-mouthing Pakistan. He then eventually sent Zalmay Khalilzad with the letter of request for help!

We need to get real; national interests define policies and in the political lexicon, this is known as pragmatism, or realpolitik. But will this pragmatism burn Pakistan more than rehabilitate it as a fair stakeholder? Only time will tell.

The intricate nature of the Afghan imbroglio demands that both the US and Pakistan, as well as UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, guard against spoilers. Recent history of proxy wars, especially in our region, tells us that such spoilers are abound all around in the Af-Pak region.

As Pakistan treads a critical path, supported by China and Russia too, important regional and global stakeholders need to stand by it as negotiations move forward. Proxies – direct or indirect – and their external handlers are already upset over the course of events since Khalilzad’s first visit to Islamabad several weeks ago. 

The discomfort and acrimony is evident from the dismissive messaging via various social media outlets. But our Afghan friends, hopefully, will understand that the international community’s financial and political support is not boundless. Sustaining that lifeline requires some tangible movement on ground. They can absorb negative narrative only to a certain limit and that they have done for nearly 18 years, with a fatigue quite visible.

The discord is debilitating for the majority of people both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Reservations on the radical Taliban are totally understandable and true. But ine should also recall that political realism turned the once “most hunted terrorist” Yasir Arafat into a Nobel Peace laureate.

Something on ground must change. Constructive approaches must give way to negativity if Afghanistan is to see an end to hostilities in favour of some semblance of normalcy. The mantra of dumping all evils in Afghanistan on Pakistan has outlived its utility.

Beijing, Moscow and Ankara as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE all seem to have finally understood Islamabad’s predicament. Others including the United States and friends in Kabul also need an empathetic, if not sympathetic, look into the suffering that Pakistani people have gone through, and the bulk of Afghans is living it daily – all because of geopolitical games.

The author is Executive Director CRSS.

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