Malik M Ashraf
THE peace process in Afghanistan remains as elusive as ever and some recent developments have created an ambience of uncertainty in regards to the revival of dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government in the near future. The Taliban have rejected the initiative of Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to facilitate dialogue between them and the Afghan government terming it as a futile and misleading exercise and have also not responded positively to the offer of talks by the Afghan President.
The rejection came after the meeting of QCG in Kabul in the last week of February in which it was decided to facilitate a meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Islamabad in March, 2016. They maintained that they had not been kept in the loop in regards to the QCG initiative and the reconciliation efforts did not have the sanction of the leader of the Afghan Taliban.
The QCG while urging the Taliban to participate in the talks had also decided to take action against those factions of the Taliban who refused to participate in the dialogue. The rejection of the QCG efforts has put the group in a difficult position. The meeting of the group to review situation in the wake of emerging scenario also has not materialized so far.
Another debilitating factor continues to be the ambience of mistrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in an interview with BBC on March 31 said that there was an ongoing war with Pakistan which must be stopped. Noting that they had made substantial progress in written agreements under the QCG peace process but it was to be seen whether they were implemented or not. Agreeing to the suggestion of the interviewer that Pakistan was playing a double game he said” I have been saying this since my last visit to Pakistan that there was an undeclared war between us. The Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan participating in a discussion organized by Jinnah Institute in Islamabad on April 7 also reiterated the same point saying” Elements supporting violence in Afghanistan continue to use Pakistani territory”.
Advisor on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz in his key note address was right on money to remark in the backdrop of the obtaining situation that no one could dictate terms to either the Afghan government or the Afghan Taliban and that the focus of the regional stakeholders should be on facilitating an inclusive reconciliation process in Afghanistan and that the QCG would have to collectively decide how to deal with elements refusing to join the peace process.
There is no denying the fact that the main stumbling block in the peace process in Afghanistan is the trust deficit between Pakistan and Afghanistan. That indeed requires sincere efforts on both sides to remove this barrier. Merely accusing Pakistan of allowing the anti-Afghan elements to use its soil for attacks in Afghanistan is not going to help. It is an irrefutable reality that Pakistan also has been enduring cross-border attacks from the Afghan soil and the Afghan territory has also been used for planning and executing terrorist acts within Pakistan.
Attacks on APS, Charsada University, Budabher airbase and many other such adventures also had an Afghan connection. The Afghan intelligence in collaboration with RAW also has been facilitating terrorist activities in Pakistan using TTP elements, as was confirmed by the Deputy commander of TTP Latifullah Mehsud who was captured by the NATO forces in Afghanistan while returning after his meeting with Afghan authorities in 2014. Not only that an Afghan intelligence officer has been arrested from Chaman on April 6, 2016 who was found in possession of weapons, explosives and other material used in the sabotage activities.
Reportedly he was responsible for sponsoring terrorist acts in Balochistan. His arrest coming on the heels of the arrest of the RAW agent Kul Bhushan Yadav whose assignment was to sabotage CPEC and foment insurgency in Balochistan, does suggest a formidable nexus between RAW and Afghan intelligence to destabilize Pakistan as well as to scuttle economic initiatives like CPEC.
The Afghan government therefore also has to keep its part of the agreements facilitated by the QCG to ensure tangible progress towards peace facilitation in Afghanistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the biggest stakeholders in peace in Afghanistan and their destinies are inextricably linked with each other. Peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan. The present government in Pakistan is very clear about it and has an abiding commitment to promoting Afghan-led and Afghan owned reconciliation in that country. Apart from the geo-political compulsions it is also imperative for the success of the government initiative for building regional linkages for shared economic prosperity.
Peace in Afghanistan is also pivotal to Pakistan becoming a gateway to Central Asia and Afghanistan becoming a land-bridge in this regard. Pakistan therefore would be the last country to encourage acts of terrorism in Afghanistan or allowing such elements to use its territory against Afghanistan. Similarly Afghanistan also needs Pakistan to choreograph a road-map to peace. That necessitates sincere, direct, frank and broad-based dialogue between the two as maintained by the Afghan Ambassador in his discourse at the Jinnah institute. Concrete actions are required instead of indulging in incessant blame-game to remove the trust deficit.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.