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A return to dialogue

Opinion

April 14, 2018

The vision of shared regional prosperity is undoubtedly linked to peace and security in the South Asian region – especially in Afghanistan, which has become the epicentre of terrorism that has a spillover effect on neighbouring countries like Pakistan.

Viewed in this context, the renewal of the dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan comes as a welcome development. This is because dialogue and continued engagement are essential ingredients to resolve conflicts and remove any kinks in bilateral relations.

For Pakistan, which has suffered the most in the war on terror and is still struggling to overcome its effect, peace in Afghanistan is an utmost necessity to ensure stability within its own territory. It is the realisation of this reality that underlines the efforts being made by Pakistan to promote the Afghan-owned process of reconciliation in the war-torn country and strengthens its credentials as an honest partner in the war on terror – notwithstanding perceptions within the US administration that are to the contrary. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s visit to Afghanistan on April 5 on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s invitation reflected this commitment and honesty of purpose.

Both leaders reportedly discussed a whole gamut of issues pertaining to bilateral relations, including peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan; counterterrorism; the return of Afghan refugees; regional connectivity; and bilateral trade. Both sides agreed that peace, prosperity and stability within Pakistan and Afghanistan are interlinked. Abbasi and Ghani also reaffirmed their commitment to regional connectivity –just as they had done in Herat on February 23, 2018 when they jointly inaugurated the TAPI Gas Pipeline.

Another outcome of the bilateral parleys included an agreement to revive the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), which provided a broad-based and structured engagement on all issues of mutual interests. Other developments from the meeting included the decision to convene the Joint Economic Commission earlier than expected; implement key rail, road, gas pipeline and energy projects to integrate Pakistan and Afghanistan with Central Asia; and move forward on the Chaman-Kandahar-Herat railway line, the Peshawar-Kabul Motorway and other connectivity projects that can help realise the potential of the South and Central Asian regions by providing the shortest access through the seaports of Gwadar and Karachi.

The talks also laid emphasis on the early completion of TAPI and CASA-1000 projects and renewed the call to the Taliban to respond positively to the peace offer and join the peace process without delay. Both Abbasi and Ghani acknowledged that terrorism was a common threat. They highlighted the need to not allow their respective countries to be used for anti-state activities against each other.

The most important consensus reached during the talks was that the Afghan conflict could not be resolved only through military might and a political solution was the best way forward. Pakistan had maintained this stance on the policy announced by US President Trump on Afghanistan and South Asia. Afghanistan is now endorsing this stance and has made a radical departure from its earlier approach when it completely agreed with Trump’s initiative.

Although no major breakthrough occurred during the meeting, the mere fact that both Pakistan and Afghanistan recognised the importance of dialogue to resolve contentious issues is in itself a positive move. We have seen similar initiatives in the past as well. Unfortunately, no credible headway could be made to achieve the desired objectives and the relations between both countries have been mired in an ambience of mistrust and mutual blame games.

No one will take issue with the fact that peace in Pakistan is linked to peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan is the last country to perpetuate this conflict with its neighbour. Peace in Afghanistan is also crucial to regional connectivity and the success of CPEC, an initiative that Pakistan has high stakes in. Any view that suggests the opposite negates the ground realities. America’s suspicion regarding Pakistan reflects the country’s inability to understand the complexities of the situation and its impulsive need to find a fall guy for its failures in Afghanistan even after 16 years of warfare.

Although Afghanistan and Pakistan have an abiding interest in ending the war in Afghanistan and consider terrorism to be their common enemy, peace in the region will only be possible when the US acknowledges the ground realities and adjusts its policies accordingly.

The reality is that the government in Afghanistan is not in a position to take any major decisions without a nod of approval from the US. The policy announced by Trump on Afghanistan and South Asia is a perfect recipe for aggravating the conflict in Afghanistan. This has become evident from the ever-increasing incidents of terrorism in Afghanistan since the new policy was unveiled. Therefore, a great deal depends on changes in the US policy and the sincerity of purpose in finding an amicable and lasting solution to the Afghan conundrum.

The US is not sincere in its efforts to find a solution to the Afghan war. Notwithstanding its expressed commitment to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the US will not be willing to leave the country. This will keep the situation in Afghanistan fluid and enable America to foment instability in the region to achieve its strategic interests. Many intellectuals, security experts and analysts have pushed this narrative for a long time. Many Afghan leaders – including former president Hamid Karzai – believe that the IS is operating in Afghanistan with America’s blessings. Some international analysts have also held the US responsible for the emergence of Daesh in the war-torn country.

America’s attempts to destabilise the region are an important ingredient of its global politics through which it desires to obstruct China’s emergence as an economic and military power. It has found an ally in India to further its strategic interests and check China’s burgeoning influence in the region and beyond. In connivance with India, the US will go to any extent to sabotage CPEC – a major initiative that could help China become a superpower in the near future.

The portents for peace in the region are not too encouraging. At this stage, we can see the re-emergence of the cold-war era – as is indicated by the recent expulsion Russian diplomatic staff by the US and its allies. In this scenario, the best way for Pakistan to protect its strategic and economic interests is to align itself – though without signing any formal pacts – with Russia, China and Iran and strengthening its role in the SCO. After all, Pakistan belongs to this region and its security and prosperity are inextricably linked with this region.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]

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