Dr Muhammad Khan
In last few weeks, there have taken place very encouraging developments, for bringing peace in Afghanistan. The first and foremost was the offer of President Ashraf Ghani to Taliban for peace talks. Subsequently US also supported peace talks between Afghan Government and the Taliban. Pakistan to has supported the offer and pledged to support the Kabul for any negotiations with Taliban. Tough there has been no formal response from Taliban, yet James Mattis, US Secretary of State has hinted about a connection between Taliban and US officials. At the regional level, especially the countries contiguous to Afghanistan, there is a welcoming of for any peace effort.
Indeed, peace in Afghanistan is extremely essential for peace in Pakistan and entire region. With this veracity in view, Pakistan along with Russian Federation and China has been engaged in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. These countries are directly affected by instability in Afghanistan. Owing to some reservations from Afghanistan in 2017, this tri-lateral forum was expanded to include other regional countries and United States. Thereafter, the forum had its meetings but, without some serious peace efforts in Afghanistan.
Apart from this forum, there have been many forums, working directly or indirectly for peace and stability in Afghanistan. These include; The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), The Heart of Asia and Friends of Afghanistan, etc. Some of these forums have been working since last one and half decade. The unfortunate aspect of these entire efforts has been that, none could contribute towards restoration of peace in Afghanistan. It is therefore essential that, before analysing the recent offer of talks by President Ghani, it is crucial to evaluate the role of various actors for bringing peace in Afghanistan.
Apparently all US efforts since 2001 are meant for peace in Afghanistan. It is said that, US has been in communication with Taliban on many occasions. The Qatar office of Taliban was opened with the consent of US. There have been many rounds of talks between the officials of Kabul Administration and Taliban even in the presence of US officials. James Mattis recent statement that, U.S has links with Taliban for negotiation is yet another indication. US even emphasised Pakistan to play a part towards brokering a peace between Taliban and Afghan Government. Despite these apparent efforts, the level of US seriousness for a meaningful negotiation with Taliban are found wanting. Had US been serious for a peace in Afghanistan, it could have brokered a peace in Afghanistan long ago.
According to a recent BBC report over 50% areas of Afghanistan are under influence of Taliban and recent attacks in high security zone of Kabul indicate the level of control enjoyed by Afghan Security forces. Many strategists view that not peace, but pursuit of its strategic interests is the ultimate objective of US in Afghanistan. Rather an unstable Afghanistan would better serve the US strategic objectives and its prolong military presence there. New Delhi too would like an unstable Kabul, providing an excuse for Indian presence there in the garb of reconstruction, rehabilitation, training of security forces, enhanced cooperation in defence and security areas and above all to bleed Pakistan through its western frontiers.
In contrast, Pakistan, China and Russia visualise peace in Afghanistan as the most significant aspect. China visualises that, instability and militancy in Afghanistan would promote militancy in its already unstable Xinjiang autonomous Province. Russian Federation view terrorism in Afghanistan as a great threat to Central Asia, which the Moscow still claims as its backyard. Iran is apprehensive of IS and Taliban led militancy in Afghanistan. Since it is bordering Afghanistan, therefore, feels the direct heat of instability. Being landlocked, all Central Asian states have a desire for peace in Afghanistan so that they can trade with Pakistan and rest of Asia through Kabul.
For Pakistan, an unstable Afghanistan would continue destabilising it, as being done. Owing to the porous borders between these countries, the TTP elements present in Afghanistan can easily infiltrate into Pakistan to cause terrorism. The unanimous view of Pakistani Government, its military and the intellectual class is that, peace in Afghanistan is essential for peace in Pakistan. In last one year, many Pakistani civil and military delegations have visited Kabul for formulating a workable cooperative mechanism between two neighbouring Muslim states. Unfortunately, whenever, the leadership of both countries try to get closer to each other to formulate such a mechanism, terrorists activities take place either in Afghanistan or Pakistan, thus sabotaging the process, before it take roots. In the last over two years, this sabotage has taken place in consistency and in a well-organised manner.
Recently, retired General Naseer Khan Janjua, Pakistani NSA visited Kabul and met with President Ghani and all key personnel of the Kabul Administration. As per Naseer Janjua, there was optimism and willingness in Kabul for bridging the current trust deficit between Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Ghani even accepted the invitation of Prime Minister Abbasi to visit Pakistan. Soon after the visit of Pakistani NSA, there was a deadly attack in high security zone of Kabul, killing dozens of innocent people. This was a drastic step, taken by the enemies of peace, aiming at sabotaging the efforts, being undertaken by Pakistan. Though IS has taken the responsibility of this attack, the question arises who raised and control this militant outfit.
The terrorists’ activities taking place in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be taken as isolated and sporadic incidents led by Non-state actors. Rather these incidents are well planned, well timed and aim to create long-term implications. These are planned at highest level and executed in a most professional manner in very highly security zones like Kabul. This cannot be done without connivance of security apparatus. There is a critical need that, high level officials of Afghanistan and Pakistan should find the perpetrators of militancy and terrorism in their countries. Let’s not blame each other, rather look for the common enemies.
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International Relations, is based in Islamabad.