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June 14, 2018

Hopeful ceasefire


June 14, 2018

The ceasefire announced by the Afghan Taliban and reciprocated by the Afghan government and Nato forces during Eid has a greater chance of working than previous such ceasefires. There is a slight optimism in the air now that both the Afghan government and the US have recognised that the only way to end the war in the country is through a settlement with the Taliban. The Taliban, too, seem ready to talk although they want a reluctant US to be a direct part of any negotiations. The day-long visit on Tuesday of Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa to Kabul was part of the long process to kick-start peace talks. The US has come to a realisation that its aggressive posture against Pakistan has not worked and is now trying to work with us. Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Gen Bajwa and, while also mentioning the need to take action against all militant groups, discussed the need for political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Both the US and Afghanistan realise that the path to peace will go through Pakistan. They believe that we have a role to play in any peace deal, starting with bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

During his visit to Kabul, Gen Bajwa met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and US commander John Nicholson. All sides said the meetings primarily focused on reconciliation in Afghanistan. The temporary ceasefire is important not just for the brief respite from violence it provides the Afghan people but because it is reported that Pakistan and China were at the forefront of the efforts to broker this ceasefire. Should it prove to be successful, it will show the Afghan government that we have a constructive role to play in peace talks with the Taliban. This augurs well for future relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan – although, of course, there are still many hurdles. The Ghani government still believes that Pakistan is helping the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, it is unhappy we won’t allow India goods transit to Afghanistan and are opposed to stringent border security measures. Pakistan, for its part, accuses Afghanistan of supporting the TTP. These problems are not going to disappear overnight but for them to eventually be resolved requires keeping the channels of communication open. Gen Bajwa’s Kabul visit may have primarily been about negotiations with the Afghan Taliban but more bilateral engagement along these lines could also have the side-effect of bringing the two countries closer.

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