Pakistan and the Peace Talks

(Mehr Ispahani, Peshawar)

US Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino at a press briefing said that Pakistan could play an important role in bringing about a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan and expressed gratitude to Islamabad for whatever it has done to this end.The US envoy seeking a peace deal with the Taliban to end 17 years of war is visiting the region for a new round of talks, according to the State Department. Pakistan understands Afghanistan better than anyone else, as the two countries are neighbors and share a long border as well as a common culture, language and ethnicity. No other nation can play the same positive role as Pakistan in gaining peace and stability in Afghanistan, to which the country is sincerely committed. After all, Pakistan was the worst victim of the situation in Afghanistan for the last four decades, as Pakistan sacrificed 75,000 precious human lives and suffered $250 billion in economic losses and other serious consequences such as terrorism and extremism.

Pakistan was also a very close ally and friend of the US-led West for almost seven decades. We were partners during the Cold War, front-line states against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and strong supporters and close allies in the war on terror. Pakistan and the US have worked together in close coordination and understand each other very well. The US knows Pakistan’s strengths and weaknesses, while the US political and military leadership realizes our potential.

To get out of the trap completely America has to have a dialogue with Taliban, these talks are taking place in Qatar and since these talks have started some countries are really worried and in which India is on top of the list, the rise of Taliban again in the region is a worrisome factor for India and the Indian leadership definitely knows that if Taliban’s come in power then Pakistan will be once again able to maintain its strategic depth in the region and if this happens then India’s credibility will be at stake. India has tried to make its space and position in Afghanistan by getting the support of the opposition groups of Taliban’s and now that talks are taking place then India is concerned how to save its interests there. India has made lots of investments there and its worried that after its evacuation how will it deal with the Taliban’s. The European countries also knew that they will not be able to get anything out of there but just had to support America. First Hamid Karzai was tested and then Ashraf Ghani was brought in by America and this experiment has always been to some extent a failure. If, despite all the benefits and advantages India enjoyed over these 17 years, India was not able to use the opportunity to achieve strategic objectives, then this isn’t entirely the fault of the US. The fact that India was riding on the US shoulder in Afghanistan naturally limited the room for India to play the way it might have wanted.

Taliban negotiators deeply oppose the proposal for US counterterrorism troops to remain in Afghanistan for up to five years, and officials were unsure if a shorter period of time would be accepted by the militants’ rank and file. Despite pouring billions of dollars into the Afghan military for more than a decade, Pentagon audits show that a renewed effort to modernize the fledgling Afghan air force will most likely not be self-sufficient until the mid-2030s. Pakistan has long called for resolving Afghan conflict through political means and a U.S.-initiated peace process has gained momentum lately. DG ISPR said Pakistan’s influence with the insurgent group has diminished over the years, but said Pakistan will use "whatever contacts we have" to facilitate the Afghan peace effort. He further said that "You are aware that Afghan refugees have been living here [in Pakistan] for 40 years. So, they [the Taliban] have families and links here. That is how as much as we can we will facilitate,” he explained when asked what Pakistan could do to nudge the insurgents to engage in peace negotiations. Rejected allegations his country is allowing the Taliban to plan attacks inside Afghanistan. He said Pakistani security forces have eliminated all terrorist sanctuaries on their side and a military-led massive construction effort is currently underway to fence off the nearly 2,600 kilometer border with Afghanistan.

India’s room for maneuver in Afghanistan is constrained by structural aspects, such as its limited material capacities, reputational concerns, and lack of geographical contiguity. Unlike the United States, for instance, India does not have the financial resources to support state building in Afghanistan. In reputational terms, it values its role as a constructive regional player that has helped build the capacity of the Afghan state in economic, political and military terms. New Delhi requires partners both outside and inside Afghanistan to protect its presence and interests in the war-torn country. Taliban have shown no desire to talk or negotiate with the current Afghan government, which they view as illegitimate. Their argument is that they control more than 50 percent of the country’s territory, which they say entitles them to be the center of power, inviting all other actors to join them.

In 2017, US development aid for Afghanistan totaled about $1.2 billion, well ahead of the next biggest donors Germany, European Union institutions, Britain and Japan, according to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data. But the United States’ junior aid partners collectively contributed nearly two-thirds of all development assistance, highlighting their critical if less visible importance to the country’s future. The withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan has always been the Taliban’s main demand, and Trump’s interest in drawing down U.S. troops has stimulated efforts to end the war. An immediate vacuum can also be detrimental for peace and security and an indefinite presence is also not acceptable. Pakistan’s “biggest contribution” has been that it has "broken the political stalemate that was there in Afghanistan for several years.

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