PRIME Minister’s ‘private’ visit to the United States has, apparently, resulted in some forward movement.
Two sides have agreed to increase contacts for the resolution of all issues—especially Afghanistan. Reportedly, the US authorities have assured Pakistan that the Trump administration will continue dialogue on all issues and all its reservations will be addressed in an amiable manner. The officials level meetings would follow soon on eradicating terrorism and Afghan reconciliation process. Pakistan has once again reemphasized that it has cleared the entire border region and there is no organized presence of terrorists within its territory. Nevertheless, considering the porous nature of the border and the presence of over 2 million Afghan refugees, sporadic occurrences could not be ruled out, and to counter this, Pakistan is determined to continue its Intelligence Based Operations.
Reportedly Pakistan has once again told the US that it will not accept any ‘do-more’ demands. Pakistan will not allow US or any other country to take action on its land and there will be no joint action either. And that if the US has proof of any terrorist safe heavens it should share it with Pakistan. Pentagon has stated that the US has ruled out any plan to cross the international border in chasing the Taliban or any other terrorist groups who flee to Pakistan. Pakistan has all along been willing to cooperate in the Afghan reconciliation process. Pakistan’s role is critical for Afghan peace. Therefore, the US will have to adopt a balanced policy. Intra Afghan efforts to hold backdoor diplomacy had begun last year after Afghan government’s announcement to initiate talks with Taliban for restoration of reconciliation process. Effort is on to persuade the Afghan Taliban to make a formal announcement of a coordination committee; immediate objective is to declare a ‘safe zone’ where the parties could hold peace talks.
During Pakistani National Security Adviser’s visit to Kabul, the two sides discussed a whole range of bilateral reconciliatory measures. Both the countries have agreed to work out a coordinated policy for resumption of talks with Taliban. Officials of Pakistan, US and Afghanistan are in contact with each other for gradual resumption of talks for Afghan reconciliation process. President Ashraf Ghani met with a Pakistani delegation and discussed the Afghan government’s peace offer to the Taliban. Ghani has also officially invited Pakistani Prime Minister to visit Kabul. Moreover, the two sides also discussed the importance of regional cooperation in a campaign against crime and activities of terrorist networks. Afghan President has also shown a deep desire to have a comprehensive plan of action with Pakistan regarding connectivity and trade enhancement, particularly in the context of CPEC and CAREC.
Afghan government has repeatedly requested Pakistan to extend the stay of Afghan refugees, however, on the behest of India, some elements of Afghan refugees have been found involved in nefarious propaganda to create unrest in the Pashtun community in Pakistan. Afghan government should seriously do something to facilitate the return of its refugees in a dignified way. Pakistan is cognizant of humanitarian dimension of this issue. Its policy on Afghan Refugees is focused on dignified return of Afghan brothers to their homeland. In this spirit, Pakistan government has extended the validity of Refugee Cards until 30th June, 2018.
Earlier this year, Ghani has made, yet another, peace offer to the Taliban. However, the Taliban have not yet responded to the offer. Taliban continue to carry out their tactical missions. President Ashraf has offered recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group as part of a proposed political process. Ghani said a framework for peace negotiations should be created, with the Taliban recognized as a legitimate group, with their own political office to handle negotiations in Kabul or another agreed location, inside Afghanistan. In addition, Taliban prisoners could be released and their names removed from international blacklists, while security arrangements could be made for Taliban agreeing to join a process of reconciliation. Former fighters and refugees could be reintegrated and provided with jobs. The offer, aimed at creating a platform for peace talks, also proposes a ceasefire and alongside new elections in which the insurgents could participate, and a constitutional review to end the conflict. These comments, a month after a suicide attack in central Kabul that killed around 100 people, represented a change in tone on Ghani’s part, who has regularly called the Taliban “terrorists” and “rebels” although he has also offered to talk with parts of Taliban that accepted peace. The UN mission in Afghanistan has welcomed the offer and said it “strongly supports the vision for peace through intra-Afghan dialogue.”
However, there is no immediate response to Ghani’s offer, although one Taliban official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was being studied by senior Taliban leaders. In return for Ghani’s offer, the Taliban would have to recognize the Afghan government. Defence Secretary Mattis flew into Kabul two weeks after Afghan President unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban. Mattis said some Taliban leaders have expressed an interest in the discussions; “It may not be that the whole Taliban comes over in one fell swoop, that would be a bridge too far, but there are elements of the Taliban clearly interested in talking to the Afghan government.” Alongside these gestures, military operation by occupation forces are on an upward trajectory. There were over 10,000 non-combatant casualties during last year, mostly attributed to indiscreet US bombing. Last week Taliban have once again described the Afghan government as “illegitimate” and its peace process efforts as “deceptive.” The peace process may not yet be out of incubation!
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.