Sunday November 28, 2021

Afghan peace process must not break down

July 14, 2020

Pakistan is vigorously facilitating the Afghan peace process. The COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and DG ISI’s recent visit to Kabul and meetings with both President Ashraf Ghani and High Council for National Reconciliation leader Abdullah Abdullah, and also meetings with US envoy Khalilzad have been aimed at quick initiation of intra-Afghan dialogue. Pakistan wants to build trust between the Afghan stakeholders and cooperate with them for mutual stability.

In reality, Pak-Afghan interests are common. Both have suffered due to terrorism and foreign interferences. Pakistan has been promoting peace in Afghanistan, acknowledged by the world, while India is a confirmed ‘regional peace spoiler’. Pakistan also respects all ethnicities in Afghanistan and wants early and honourable return of Afghan refugees. Pakistan wants public-to-public relations in education, health and welfare projects with Afghanistan.

The United States and the Taliban had signed an agreement on February 29, 2020, in Doha, which is regarded as the first major step for an intra-Afghan peace arrangement. It was agreed that the US would decrease the number of its forces from 14,000 to 8,600 soldiers, also reduce the number of other international forces in Afghanistan, and work with both sides to release prisoners. Pakistan, however, does not want a quick US exit from Afghanistan as it could engulf the country in violence.

The continuing violence in the country, although not always claimed by the Taliban, threatens to upend the peace process between the group, the US and the Afghan government. Resurging, abhorrent violence targeting the helpless in Afghanistan must be strongly opposed as it is not acceptable to speak of peace while continuing to kill innocent civilians; a political process cannot succeed until there is an end to the terror engulfing the country.

The UN has said that more than 800 people have been killed or wounded in deliberate attacks targeting civilians in Afghanistan during the first half of 2020. This has raised concerns the violence is aimed at derailing the planned peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

"In the first six months of 2020, preliminary figures indicate more than 800 civilians were killed and injured in deliberate attacks against civilians," the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement. "It's taken enormous work and some brave decisions for Afghans to reach the point of being on the eve of unprecedented intra-Afghan negotiations," the UNAMA chief said. "There are spoilers who do not wish to see an end to war. No matter what tactics they employ to derail the peace process, they cannot be allowed to succeed."

The UNAMA urged the Taliban and Afghan authorities not to target civilians and push on with efforts to de-escalate the conflict ahead of upcoming talks. Pakistan has also warned about ‘spoilers’ trying to undermine the peace process in Afghanistan as efforts for kick-starting the long-elusive intra-Afghan dialogue continue.

“Afghan peace process has entered a critical phase. We, therefore, need to remain alert to the elements, who are attempting to sabotage the progress,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi recently told US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. Qureshi, reaffirming Pakistan’s continued support for peace efforts, said: “Pakistan remains committed to working with international and regional stakeholders for sustainable, peaceful, and political resolution of the Afghan dispute.”

Meanwhile, as India continues to lose space in Afghanistan, it is emerging as the main peace spoiler. It has been carrying out false anti-Pakistan propaganda and running anti-Pakistan proxies in the war-torn country. It has been instigating the Ghani regime to hinder the peace process by delaying the prisoner swap. It also opposes Pakistan’s border fencing with Afghanistan.

Doha will be the venue of the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. It were scheduled to commence on March 10 following the signing of Doha Accord between the US and Taliban. But the talks could not yet start due to a delay in the release of prisoners.

Achieving an acceptable peace agreement to all parties, however, will not be easy. The peace agreement should prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for international terrorism and there should be no major humanitarian crisis.