Afghan Peace Talks Weighing the Options for Pakistan

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Since the United States attacked Afghanistan in 2001, respective governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Although former Afghan President Hamid Karzai made some efforts in this regard, yet the real impediment to the process has been the presence of Occupation Forces on the land of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s new coalition government has restarted sincere efforts — in collaboration with Pakistan — on the unfinished business. President Ashraf Ghani has launched a strategic campaign to persuade the internal as well as external actors involved in Afghanistan to get their help for stabilizing the country. His visit to Pakistan that was followed by the Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif’s visit to Kabul, also conveyed the same message.

However, Taliban leaders are still open — and willing — to start peace talks with the Afghan government. Taliban’s reclusive leader Mullah Omar, in an email to different organizations, expressed his disposition to talk with the Afghan government by stating that Taliban are still willing and are waiting for peace talks with the Government of Afghanistan. Few days ago, a Taliban delegation visited Beijing to hold discussion with the Chinese government on the same issue.

Being the next door neighbour and the state that has most stakes in Afghanistan, Pakistan has not only welcomed the announcement but has also agreed to act as a facilitator between the two parties to the negotiations. The first sign of this major breakthrough came last month when Pakistan, under China’s beseeching, convinced the senior Taliban leaders to hold talks with US and Afghan officials.

Along with the government, all the political parties, religious groups and the people of Pakistan at large support Afghan peace talks. Even those people who had been, overtly or covertly, supporting suicide attacks in Afghanistan against the Nato and Isaf forces are also vociferously advocating the usefulness and significance of the talks process. Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC), Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI (F) and others, who have been traditionally supporters of Afghan Taliban, are in the same boat with the government on this issue. Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi, the Chairman of the PUC, also announced his hope for the new peace talks being pursued by the national unity government in Kabul. He said, “Both sides, the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, must resolve the issues between them. The people of Pakistan can only pray for a positive result from the talks; Pakistan and Afghanistan have been both facing conflicts for decades, and it’s time for the government of Afghanistan to resolve the issue through peace talks.”

Afghanistan’s foreign affairs ministry has welcomed the developments in Pakistan. Shekib Ahmad Mostaghni, a spokesman of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said:

“Cooperation between the two countries has entered a new season, the Islamic Government of Afghanistan welcomes the recent attempts of its friend and brother country Pakistan, and its cooperation in maintaining stability in Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s CEO Dr Abdullah Abdullah also welcomed the announcement of General Raheel Sharif whereby he declared that Afghanistan’s enemy is Pakistan’s enemy, and Pakistan has told those people that are involved in the war that they do not have any option but to negotiate with the Afghan government.”

Furthermore, some analysts opine that the paradigm shift in viewpoint of Pakistan’s political and religious leaders is mainly because of the fact that Pakistan needs stability in the region that can only be achieved by making Afghanistan stable and a prosperous state. Pakistan amply knows that a prolonged environment of insecurity and instability in Afghanistan and the region as a whole is not in its best interests. The tragic incident of Peshawar Massacre has changed the scenario altogether; as it had brought the civil and military leadership at one page and public opinion too reflects a strong resolve to eliminating terrorism. It is an undeniable truth that the stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s best interests, and that ending of terrorism and militancy in Pakistan may also remain a nightmare without a stable Afghanistan.

At a time when Afghanistan is faced with a defining moment in its history, the strategic shift in Pakistan-Afghan ties has created an optimistic scenario. However, the process of negotiations may be painstakingly slow, and progress could be akin to one step forward and two backwards. At this critical time, caution is due for Pakistan as well. Afghanistan and Pakistan depend on each other, and cannot exist in isolation. The two countries must build trust by backing words with actions. The whole discussion can be summed up by saying that Pakistan should facilitate the reconciliation process to the extent possible. But, it is for the Afghan government to lead the efforts for reconciliation in Afghanistan. Any reconciliation process has to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

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