M Ziauddin

Monday, September 28, 2015 – Afghanistan is likely to remain in focus during the current session of the UN General Assembly. The sixth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions (the Monitoring team) concerning the Taliban constituting a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan presented to the Chair of the UN Security Council on August 26, this year has claimed that despite their increasing efforts, the Taliban presently remain unable to alter the military stalemate that persists on the ground.

It does, however, concede that the Taliban spring offensive was launched with a greater level of coordination in evidence, including the participation of foreign terrorist fighters.

Over the winter of 2014-2015 Afghan Security Forces conducted a series of operations that targeted Taliban forces. Most of the captured individuals reported that they had previously been located in North Waziristan, Pakistan and had left because of the Zarb-i-Azb. Most prominent among these were fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Interestingly the lashkar-e-Tayyaba was also reported to have increased its activity in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan.

As a result, the insurgency has become more diverse, and includes sizeable number of fighters from Central Asia, the Caucasus region and Pakistan.

According to the report to advance peace, security and political process in Afghanistan two essential factors remain important. The first is continued external financial support, in particular to Afghan national security and defense forces. The second is generating a high degree of confidence in government institutions from the Afghan public.

On the political front the Taliban leadership is increasingly divided over the question of engaging with the government of Afghanistan. Hardliners who earlier had formed splinter groups tend now instead to declare their loyalty to the ‘Khorasan province’ of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

However, some Taliban attached to Quetta Shura continue to advocate for political engagement. According to Afghan interlocutors, these individuals build their case around a number of arguments. Some point to the disastrous military situation in Kandahar and Helmund provinces and the way rival tribes and networks have been empowered as a result of the ongoing military confrontation.

Others point to the challenge of the Taliban of breaking out from their core areas of strength in the south, with some even questioning whether military success in the south alone could bring victory. These advocates of political engagement are open to a negotiated settlement through a regional process that includes Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China, and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan had convened a high-level meeting on Afghanistan’s peaceful development and regional cooperation on the margins of the 70th UN General Assembly.

Chief Executive of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani were joined by representatives of Afghanistan’s regional and international friends and partners including Pakistan.

The assembled high-level representatives also looked ahead to the upcoming Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process Ministerial Conference in Islamabad as an important opportunity to reinforce the region’s support for Afghanistan. The representatives welcomed an update from Pakistani National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz on preparations for the Islamabad conference. Reiterating their support for the principles of good neighborly relations, the high-level representatives expressed a desire for the Islamabad conference to be an opportunity for all regional and international states to renew their commitments to support and respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and to reaffirm the Heart of Asia’s commitment to the principle of non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

The participants welcomed the successful Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VI) and emphasized that regional economic connectivity is vital to this broader international agenda. An Afghanistan firmly embedded in the economic life of the region and connected to international markets will enjoy greater opportunities for peace and stability as well as the entire region. In this regard, the representatives reiterated support for Afghanistan’s ambition to use its geographic location to enhance and accelerate connectivity with neighboring countries and become an integrated trade, transportation, and energy hub within the region.

During the event, the international community expressed its continuing strong support for the Afghan Government, and recognized the progress it has made in strengthening government institutions, enhancing economic governance, improving ties with neighbors, and continuing to ensure that all Afghans enjoy rule of law and access to justice. Participants welcomed recent steps taken as part of the reform agenda to combat corruption and strengthen credibility of the country’s electoral process.

The participants reiterated support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive peace process and for the Government’s efforts to further advance reconciliation with the Taliban and other armed groups, and called on those groups to enter into direct talks with the Afghan government. Afghanistan’s Chief Executive provided an update on the security situation and on efforts to further the peace process in Afghanistan and expressed appreciation for the international community’s continuing support for such a process. The international community recognized the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces’ (ANDSF) dedicated performance and honored the sacrifices of the Afghan people.

China, the United States, and Afghanistan reiterated their conviction that Afghanistan never again be used as a safe-haven for international terrorists and called on regional countries and the international community to make joint efforts toward preventing the spread of terrorist and extremist groups in the region.

During the meeting, regional and international states affirmed that the entire international community has a stake in continuing to support Afghanistan’s security, stability, unity, peace, and prosperity. They expressed the desire to use upcoming international conferences to demonstrate the international community’s enduring political and practical support for the goals of the government as it continues to make progress on its governance and reform agenda. The representatives welcomed the decision on the part of the European Union to host the next Afghanistan international donor conference in Brussels.

Pakistan needs to keep a close watch on these developments as not only Islamabad’s actively positive participation in these anticipated events is crucial for the well being of the two neighbors but it is Pakistan and Pakistan alone that can guarantee lasting peace in Afghanistan by eradicating from its soil all militant groups and the tendencies that give rise to the ideology of militancy.

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