TALIBAN leadership has agreed to hold meeting with Afghan government after concluding an agreement with the US, which seems soon rather than late. This means that end of war and as a consequence peace in Afghanistan is in sight. Referring to Imran Khan’s statement, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Arab News via telephone from Doha on Wednesday that “a visit to Pakistan could take place in the coming weeks if a formal invitation is extended to us. We will discuss the issue of refugees and other related issues.” The US and the Taliban are getting closer to a deal expected to centre on a US pledge to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban’s guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for terrorism. Earlier, the group had refused to hold direct talks with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, which it viewed as a puppet regime.
Pakistan is sincerely helping in peace efforts in Afghanistan. Two weeks ago, three Afghan government officials joined a delegation of over 50 people at an intra-Afghan conference in Doha, also attended by Taliban political envoys to discuss the future of the war-ravaged country. The Taliban insisted that the officials were only present in a personal capacity, and not as representatives of Ashraf Ghani. According to reports, Imran Khan discussed his plan to receive Taliban leaders in Pakistan with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has given his consent; despite the fact that he had requested Islamabad in February not to meet with the group. Taliban and the US representatives are scheduled to resume talks in the coming days to remove differences on a timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign forces. During his visit to the US, Imran Khan did not make a promise but said that he would try to persuade Taliban leaders to hold talks with Afghan government.
In fact, the Taliban had already agreed to hold talks with the Afghan government after the timetable of withdrawal of US forces and other issues vis-à-vis status of the Taliban in future set up and issues of constitution and Afghan army are resolved. The US and Afghan government should understand that Afghan Taliban leadership needs to convince the commanders who have been fighting for the last 18 years that time has come to consolidate by signing the peace deal between the group and the Afghan government. There have been quite a few rounds of US-Taliban talks in Doha and elsewhere. The first Afghan peace conference was held in Pakistan last month in Bhurban Murree, where leaders from different political parties of Afghanistan including leader of the Hezb-e-Islami, Gulbadin Hekmatyar, Ustad Atta Noor, former Vice-President Karim Khalili, Second Deputy CEO Mohammad Mohaqiq as well as current Vice-President Rashid Dostum attended.
In the past, Rashid Dostum and Hanif Atmar have been accusing Pakistan of supporting militants; but their participation and words of appreciation show change of heart and mind. Reportedly, the US and Taliban are close to reaching an understanding on counter-terrorism commitment, as President Donald Trump has already hinted about withdrawing at least 50 per cent of the US troops from Afghanistan to start with. This will pave the way for intra-Afghan dialogue, in which the German government is also playing a major role. Speaking at the conference Gulbadin Hekmatyar said that US-Taliban peace talks were not enough. The dialogue between the Taliban and US he believed was useful but peace was only possible through a substantive intra-Afghan process that would satisfy both sides. Hanif Atmar appealed to Afghans to unanimously call for withdrawal of foreign forces, which means support to the Taliban’s demand.
A statement issued by Atmar’s Peace and Moderation Team said, “it was committed to supporting any sincere effort aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan, and therefore, it fully supported the meeting in Pakistan. We appreciate and support Pakistan’s role in support of peace and reconciliation and hope this initiative by Pakistan will pave the way for early direct intra-Afghan negotiations”. Hanif Atmar has been a mainstay in Afghan politics since late 1980s, when he began his security career under the Soviet Union-backed government. He served as Interior Minister under former President Hamid Karzai and had been the country’s top security official under Ghani from 2014 to 2018. He had resigned in August 2018 over disagreements with the government on issues such as national unity, peace and security as well as regional and international relations.
Leaders of former Northern Alliance, who have been suspicious of Pakistan, have expressed their trust in Pakistan otherwise they would have stayed away from Murree talks like Hamid Karzai. After 9/11, when the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, they had supported the invasion and had the lion’s share in the Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai. Today, President Ashraf Ghani has become irrelevant like Hamid Karzai. Having said that, the US will have to exert pressure on President Ashraf Ghani to address Taliban’s concerns to pave the way for Taliban’s direct talks with the government, as it had done when the US had pressurized and warned Ashraf Ghani to accept Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive otherwise there would be re-election of the President. US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in Afghanistan, tweeted that “another round of intra-Afghan talks would occur after we conclude our own agreements.”
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.