US Failures and Pakistan’s “new” role in Afghan peace process

By Rafiq Jan

US president Donald Trump’s latest endeavor of writing to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, asking support for Afghanistan’s conclusive solution, comes as a timely endorsement of Pakistan’s importance in the region. Trump’s temperament, however, might not convince many observers and Imran Khan’s opponents of his intentions. But, as a matter of fact, the US president’s direct approach has, by far, enhanced the confidence and a sense of self-respect in Islamabad.

This surprisingly changed mindset shows there has been a realization in the US circles that Pakistan holds the key to a successful resolution to the Afghan conflict. Seventeen years on, more than $ 1 Trillion lost, and three presidents later, the Afghan war still lingers on. America’s longest and most expensive conflict seems to be at a crucial stage where only someone has to finally change the course of history and provide a face-saving dialogue with the Taliban, for which Pakistan seems to be a vital element.

This overture from the US president comes as a great lesson for all the so-called self-declared hardliners that peace cannot afford personal grudges of the leader. They can, at times, decide to accept defeat in war in order to win the cause for their nation. When it comes to deciding between national interests and personal achievements, the national priorities must take precedence in all the cases. Hence, it seems, that President Trump wants to finally withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

From Pakistan’s perspective, this is yet another chance to show how sagaciously the new progressive thinking team of Prime Minister Imran khan will handle this situation. This time, like several occasions in the past, this must not be taken by the Pakistani think tanks as a continuation of the old saga. This needs to be welcomed as a challenging opportunity to be taken upfront with extreme seriousness by all the political parties before coming to a unanimous decision.

Pakistan must not ignore President Trump’s infamous volatility and frequent blusters on any key issue. His close allies, too, accept that it’s difficult to predict what he may ultimately do. He was a staunch supporter of the idea of pulling out of Afghanistan during his pre-election speeches, but, after taking office, he took a notorious 180 degree turn.

Experts in the US military also suggest that they may not accept his idea of an early withdrawal and, following its own history, the US Army top brass can stymie any abrupt Trump order to abandon Afghanistan. Pentagon may argue that its new commander in Afghanistan needs to buy time to write his own defense assessment of the ground realities. This sounds more of an apprehension rather than an argument because the US has a long history of failed adventures worldwide.

But given the ground realties, one can assume that common sense will prevail for an impulsive president who is famous for taking unpredictable and unusual steps. For Pakistan, the response to Trump’s goodwill initiative will be a true tester of its populist and progressive minded leadership. Talking about American troops’ exit from Afghanistan will be the toughest challenge to face because it would also mean sending Afghanistan into an abyss of isolation. This could result in chaotic internal security situation that will negatively impact the the Pak-Afghan border security.

Pakistan has never been in such a strong position to negotiate its terms with otherwise defiant USA. However, the foremost and the hardest part of this process will be getting the Taliban on table for comprehensive talks. The Taliban will rightly be reluctant to trust Pakistan in endorsement of a highly significant role in the US exit deal. They have been “deceived”, on several occasions, by Pakistan, especially after 2001. At present, the Taliban, buoyed by its advances in Afghanistan, will only be willing to talk about the US troops’ complete withdrawal. They have also realized lately that time is on their side. Both the White house and the American intelligence agencies think the war has a dismal failure, with little chances of improvement for the coalition or Afghan forces.

USA’s latest Afghan policy may yet be another ploy by Washington to push Pakistan on the back foot.  However, historical facts reveal that it is about time that Pakistan rises to the call of national unity and integrity and takes the bull by its horns. It needs to do its best to mediate a dialogue process and play a constructive role towards Afghanistan’s peace and stability. This can only happen if Pakistan formulates a comprehensive, conclusive and diplomatic solution for enduring peace and stability in the region.

The author is based in Doha, Qatar.

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