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January 28, 2020

New challenges and possibilities

Opinion

January 28, 2020

On becoming president of the US, Donald Trump took a tough line and used harsh and inappropriate language against Pakistan while announcing his Afghanistan Policy. On the other hand, he praised India’s role committed and to further cooperation with New Delhi.

At the time, Pakistan wanted the US to recognize its sacrifices and cooperation on the Afghanistan front, and give it due role in the future as well. After becoming army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa too tried for the same. Pakistan continued to urge Americans for direct negotiations and dialogue with the Taliban. But the Americans were not willing due to pressure from the Afghanistan government and some other reasons.

Finally, the US showed some willingness and the then assistant secretary of state Alice Wells agreed to have direct talks with the Taliban during her visit to Pakistan in the last days of the PML-N government. Pakistan promised full support in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. This was the first time in a decade that American officials started praising Pakistan’s role regarding Afghanistan.

The Americans not only showed seriousness in negotiations with the Taliban but also recognized Pakistan’s role and importance in Afghanistan’s post-withdrawal settlement. Logically, some reaction was expected from India but surprisingly New Delhi did not make much noise on having been sidelined from the Afghanistan process with Pakistan bagging the driving seat.

In the meantime, students like us were pointing out that India’s silence implied that something fishy was going on. But regrettably, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his advisors could not understand – thanks to their diplomatic immaturity. Imran Khan was thinking that the US would consider Pakistan’s support on Afghanistan as a great favour, and in return would help us on the India front, especially on the issue of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

With these expectations, Prime Minister Imran Khan met President Donald Trump during his visit to the US. The prime minister and his people were delighted when they heard the mediation offer by Trump. Returning home, they made it seem like they had won a huge victory on the Kashmir front. What Trump probably had in mind was that he would favour India in the arbitration on Kashmir – and that too when/if India had accepted the mediation offer.

Some informed people has also thought that Trump had given Modi the impression that he would support India on the eastern border to compensate for Pakistan’s role on the western border.

Imran Khan had met Donald Trump with the hope that he would pressurize India. But the PM was disappointed when Trump urged Pakistan to be patient and silent, instead of asking Modi to reverse the Article 350 decision.

Pakistan did not mobilize the OIC or any other bloc and instead put all its eggs in the Trump basket. But when Trump did not provided the support which was expected, Pakistan had no alternative to pressurize India. Interestingly, while the prime minister was looking for Trump’s help, China, Turkey, Iran and Malaysia ended up providing some support on the Kashmir issue.

What had to happen on the eastern border happened. But the question now is: what will happen on the western border? The peace process has reached at its climax and negotiations between the US and the Taliban have re-entered the final phase. There is only a slight disagreement on the issue of ceasefire, but that is expected to be resolved soon as well.

Unfortunately, at such a crucial moment when the US and the Taliban are inching closer to a final agreement, the intra-Afghan dialogue has not even started yet. That is a pre-requisite for a durable peace. In case Afghanistan plunges into to a civil-war like situation after the withdrawal of the US and coalition forces, that will also lead to problems and challenges for Pakistan.

In a post-withdrawal scenario, it’s not just the Taliban and the Afghan government that are the parties. In reality, there will be multiple parties and actors in Afghanistan; Abdullah Abdullah, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Rashid Dostum have not accepted the result of the recent presidential election. Similarly, people like Hamid Karzai do not recognize Ashraf Ghani’s government as the only representative to deal with the Taliban – and some people give pretty high importance to people like Hamid Karzai on the issue.

Bringing all these people and actors on the same page and then getting them to agree with the Taliban on a political system is a very difficult task. And the US is looking towards Pakistan for it.

This task becomes more difficult in the sense that most of the political elements in Kabul seem to be proxies of different countries. Similarly, different countries have managed to get their proxies within the Taliban’s ranks as well. In such a complex situation, it seems that the US is going to leave behind a mess of instability for Pakistan to deal with.

Now the ball seems to be in Pakistan’s court. If Pakistan succeeds in holding an intra-Afghan dialogue and brings the diverse elements on a single political system, it will be great source of stability for Afghanistan. Pakistan too will benefit from it. But if the opposite happens, then Pakistan will not only be affected by a civil war in Afghanistan but will also be blamed by both the US and Afghanistan for their own failures.

The question is: does Imran Khan’s government realize and understand this new challenge on the western border? An even bigger question is: does the prime minister and his foreign minister have the ability to deal with such crucial and complex issues?

The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: [email protected] com.pk