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October 18, 2017

Fragile peace


October 18, 2017

The resumption of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group conferences to try and force a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan began on Monday a rare note of positivity after the recent détente between Pakistan and the US. The operation undertaken by the Pakistan Army to rescue a kidnapped Canadian-American couple and their children from the Haqqani Network earned praise from US President Donald Trump and opened the possibility that the QCG meeting in Muscat, with China and Afghanistan joining Pakistan and the US, could yield instant results. It soon became clear that any hope was premature. The Muscat meeting was merely the opening salvo in a process that has barely begun. It was telling that the countries did not issue a joint communiqué or discuss the progress that had been made. Notably, the Afghan Taliban did not have representation at the conference – even though the entire point of the QCG is to bring both sides to the negotiating table. The trust between all four countries is at near-historic lows. Pakistan and Afghanistan continually blame each other for being behind militant attacks in their respective countries. Afghanistan’s closeness to India means that it is wary of China’s intentions in the region and does not want it to play a prominent role in securing the peace. Trump, meanwhile, has threatened trade and currency wars against China. That these four countries even agreed to sit at the same table represents a breakthrough of sorts.

The biggest obstacle may still be the Pakistan-US relationship. On the very day of the Muscat conference, a US drone strike,believed to be in Kurram Agency led to the death of people, believed to be members of the Afghan Taliban. The message sent by the US seems rather clear: never mind the rare words of praise from Trump; the US will still aggressively pressurise Pakistan, and that seems to include little patience for our sovereignty. There are conflicting reports about whether the drone strike took place within Pakistan’s borders or a little beyond. The ISPR issued a statement saying there were no drone strikes in Kurram Agency and any sound of aerial bombardments in the area were caused by operations within Afghanistan. But since the US has already stated it believes Pakistan sheltering the Afghan Taliban, it would have no compunction in attacking targets on our side of the Durand Line. This further complicates the peace process since the Afghan Taliban, already distrustful of the US and Afghan governments, will use the drone strike as proof that neither country is interested in ending the war. That the QCG is still convening conferences means that the four countries haven’t given up all hope of a political solution but the long and winding road to a final agreement hasn’t been made any smoother by the actions of the US. Muscat will need to be swiftly followed by more substantive meetings if the fragile peace process is to continue.


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