Afghanistan Pakistan

Who subverted Taliban’s visit to Islamabad?

By Imtiaz Gul

Should Pakistan relish the Saudi insistence to keep references to Pakistan and Pulwama out of the joint statement issued after Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Delhi visit?

Should Pakistan interpret the postponement of the Taliban visit to Islamabad as an Indian tactic with the tacit US approval? 

Should Islamabad, instead of being complacent, worry and pull up socks for more vigorous diplomacy abroad? 

Let us address these three questions one by one;

The Indian officials and most of the journalist community, including iconic anchors such as Barkha Dut, visibly appeared incensed over what transpired during and after Prince Salman’s Islamabad visit (17-18 Feb).

In the first place, they found the excerpt from the Pakistan-Saudi joint statement hard to swallow;  

“….They also underlined the need for avoiding politicization of UN listing regime…..During the official talks in Islamabad, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense praised openness and efforts of Prime Minister Imran Khan for dialogue with India and the opening of the Kartarpur crossing point (to facilitate Indian Sikh  pilgrims) and the efforts exerted by both sides, stressing that dialogue is the only way to ensure peace and stability in the region to resolve outstanding issues.”

The statement clearly generated the perception that it is India that stands isolated, not Pakistan, as claimed and craved by PM Modi. 

Through the statement, Saudi leadership conveyed to the Indian counterparts to amicably and rationally take stock of the Kashmir situation instead of politicizing it.

As if to rub more salt into the bruised Indian ego, even Beijing reminded New Delhi of the need to politically and legally handle issues, instead of scandalizing them to the advantage of another neighbor.

“There are detailed criteria of the listing of terrorist entities or individuals in the procedures of the UN Security Council 1267 Committee and relevant Security Council resolutions………, China will engage in relevant discussions in a constructive and responsible manner, and keep close communication and coordination with India and other parties concerned,” was how Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang’s responded (February 20, 2019) to repeated questions by Indian correspondents on the listing of Maulana Masood Azhar.

Even Russia, another key member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), has been telling India the same. Interestingly, both are permanent members of the UN Security Council. As informed global powers, both Russia and Beijing do meanwhile also know the underlying causes of the unrest in Kashmir.

They must be aware, as explained by Kashmiri jurist Dr. Nazir Gillani, that the Indian security forces have violated seven restraints (4+3) placed on them by the Security Council. It makes them an “occupation force” in Kashmir and their actions are crimes against peace and humanity.

But the most depressing snub to the belligerent Indians came from the US President Trump, who deflected an Indian reporter with a matter-of-fact counter-question; “wouldn’t it be great if they (India, Pakistan) got along?” Trump said when pressed as to whether he would condemn Pakistan for the Pulwama attacks.

This brings us to the issue of the Taliban’s inability to travel to Pakistan for a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan and the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (slated for Feb 18).

This plan fell apart after the Afghan government complained at the Security Council that the Taliban officials invited to Pakistan were blacklisted by the UN and barred from travelling internationally. This complaint came as a rude shock to all those involved because the Taliban had been travelling to Beijing, Moscow, Iran, Paris and U.A.E all these months, with little objection from Kabul.

In all previous travels, the US provided the key waiver for Taliban’s travel. It was also responsible for facilitating their Pakistan visit. Taliban had already released the details of their Islamabad meeting, as they did on the previous meetings under an apparent understanding with Zalmay Khalilzad, one would assume. The official explanation that the Taliban gave for the cancellation of the visit was that some committee members could not travel because the US did not provide a waiver to some members who were still on the UN blacklist.

And this gives birth to the critical question as to who nudged Kabul into contacting the UN? 

“Cannot be without silent US endorsement,” is a calculated guess by key people involved in the process, who think that the Taliban was apparently stabbed in the back despite considerable progress in the talks. It makes sense because even if Kabul agrees to such a move by India or another country, it would not happen if the US opposed it.

In all probability, the buck stops at Khalilzad, who too was set to meet PM Imran Khan (according to the PM House schedule for that day). In hindsight, it appears, detractors wanted to once again deny Pakistan the limelight in the reconciliation process.

What they clearly miss is the new strategic calculus that has evolved in Pakistan, which has taken a conscious decision – at its own peril – to facilitate Afghan reconciliation. And this decision rests on the assumption that its east-west geographical nexus cannot develop without a normal relationship with India. At the highest level, Pakistan has conveyed, even to the US Secretary of State, that it is ready even for reconciliation with India if the latter stopped playing sinister games.

Secondly, there is little point in attempting to undermine Islamabad’s role in the Afghan peace process; it did its bit and registered its relevance by bringing the Taliban and the US face to face. The rest is now up to all Afghans and the US, which foots the bulk of the bill for the Afghan unity government and its defence forces, to chart the way forward for peace. 

Would be good if the US president and other serious NATO nations could read through the game and stop people within from playing the role of spoilers instead of game-makers? Too many internecine geo-political games have only sharpened conflicts, not mitigated them.

The author is Executive Director, CRSS.

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One comment

  1. Imtiaz Gul has very ably examined the subject and the moral that has surfaced is, very simple. It is not the size or the market of a country that civilisations would remember. It would be their role and the desire of their people, to increment the Constituency of Peace. The latter is a common asset for us and our future generations. UN or an influential member nation of the UN should not err in favour of sabotaging a peace effort. A country or an institution, that loses its moral mooring or faith of a common citizen, is left with very little.

    Taliban should be encouraged and resourced to travel and interact as needed by them. Their travel to Islamabad, would have augured well for the Constituency of Peace. Imtiaz Gul has his finger on the handle. All parties including the nascent spoilers should read it.

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