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Sunday March 03, 2024

Tread with caution

December 28, 2018

When the year 2018 began, I wrote an article in these pages on US President Donald Trump’s controversial tweet about Pakistan. It is a mere coincidence that my last column of the year is also about Trump.

Recently, the Foreign Office disclosed that Trump, in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, has sought Pakistan’s support in the Afghan peace process. He emphasised that the US is willing to explore opportunities to renew partnership with Pakistan.

There are also reports in the US media that Trump is planning to withdraw American troops that are based in Afghanistan. The possibility of the US pulling out of the 18-year-long Afghan war has created panic among the international community. However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is of the view that the US withdrawal will have no major impact on Afghanistan’s ability to defend itself.

These news reports are also being discussed in the local media. According to some analysts, the US is exhausted by the long war and has accepted defeat at the hands of the Taliban. Some critics have claimed that the crumbling US economy is the actual reason for Trump’s decision. Drawing attention to the history of Afghanistan, some journalists have argued that it is quite difficult for foreign occupying forces to remain in Afghanistan due to its unique geographical location.

This uncertain situation reminds me of Rambo III, which was released in 1988. In the climax scene of the film, Rambo and the US commander were about to be defeated by the might of the Soviet Army. But the Mujahideen warriors attacked the battlefield to save them. Later, an Afghan child asks them to stay in Afghanistan. However, the Americans cross the Afghan border to enter Pakistan.

The movie was originally dedicated to the brave Mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan. However, after 9/11, the ending credits were replaced with: “This film is dedicated to the gallant people of Afghanistan”.

Pakistan has always tried to maintain brotherly relations with Afghanistan. The country opened its doors for the Afghan people on humanitarian grounds. Unfortunately, the Afghan leadership has always remained hostile towards Pakistan.

The shortest period of cordial relations between both countries was the Taliban era. After 9/11, Pakistan had tried its best to convince the then Afghan leadership to show flexibility in the interest of achieving regional peace. If the situation had been settled amicably, thousands of innocent lives could have been saved on both sides.

The successful ceasefire on the occasion of Eidul Fitr this year showed the commitment of the current Afghan government, under the leadership of Ashraf Ghani, to ensure peace and prosperity. This was also the first time that the Taliban accepted a ceasefire offer since their government was toppled in 2001. This reflects that the attitude of the Afghan

Taliban has changed over time. Similarly, the success of the Bajwa Doctrine demonstrates that Pakistan has never fought for money but to ensure peace.

If we analyse Trump’s tweet on New Year’s Eve in 2017 and his recent letter to PM Imran Khan, the narrative is the same: do more. However, the positive change in US foreign policy could be an outcome of the fact that the PTI government, unlike previous regimes, is committed towards strengthening national institutions and adopting a win-win foreign policy. There is no doubt that Afghanistan remains important in our foreign policy. That’s why Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi visited Afghanistan on his first foreign official tour to engage in dialogue with his counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani.

However, the sudden withdrawal of the US troops will have a negative impact on the region. The presence of Daesh in Afghanistan is alarming for regional countries and the Taliban. The Afghan situation is so complex that it cannot be solved with the help of a letter. The US must also take all other stakeholders, including the Central Asian States, China, Iran, India and Russia on board to move Afghanistan towards peace and prosperity.

In the past, Pakistan was hastily pushed into the Afghan war. But this time, we must first create a national consensus before officially responding to Trump’s letter. PM Imran Khan ought to have an exclusive meeting with analysts and experts on Afghan affairs to devise a concrete policy. According to some analysts, a peace treaty with the Afghan Taliban is expected before April, prior to the presidential elections in Afghanistan. In light of these factors, Pakistan must be careful and act wisely.

The writer is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of the

Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani