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December 8, 2018

The process of peace


December 8, 2018

Pakistan’s position on the US war in Afghanistan has always been consistent: the only way to end the stalemate is through a negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taliban. In recent days, the government has emphasised once again that there can be no military solution and that we are ready to play our part. First, in a meeting with US Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, Prime Minister Imran Khan stressed that we still have an “abiding interest” in reconciliation through a political settlement. That message was repeated by ISPR DG Major-General Asif Ghafoor at a press conference where he said that Pakistan is taking every step possible so that the US could withdraw from Afghanistan after a settlement as a friend of the region rather than a failure.

All this came in response to a letter by US President Donald Trump to PM Imran Khan, where the former asked for Pakistan’s help in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. Trump is essentially requesting Pakistan do something it has wanted to do all along but the situation has been complicated by his unrelenting hostility towards us. As Imran said in an interview to the Washington Post, Pakistan is no longer willing to act as the “hired gun” of the US. Quite what this means in policy terms is difficult to say, since facilitating talks between the US and the Taliban would be in our own interest too as would extracting any concessions we can from the US for providing help.

The US itself understands it will have to pay a price if it wants to lure Pakistan back to its side in Afghanistan after months of castigating us for supposedly supporting the Taliban and Haqqani Network. Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie, the next commander of Centcom told the US Senate at his confirmation hearing that Pakistan knows its help is required for peace in Afghanistan and that the US has to make it attractive enough to secure our cooperation. The problem is that the Trump administration is not known for its give-and-take. It is used to making demands and having others instantly leap into action. There are also some questions about how much influence Pakistan now has with the Afghan Taliban. The US takes it as a given that Pakistan wields chief influence over the militant group but the reality is very different. The Taliban have been trying to make contact with the US on their own and the new generation of Taliban leaders has had little interaction with Pakistan. Pakistan may be ready to help and the US may be ready to receive our help, but it is unclear how much help we will be able to offer.

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