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May 17, 2021

Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution

Head of PPP Media Cell

It is nice to know that Afghan government officials and Taliban are reportedly talking to each other to invigorate the stalled peace talks in the wake of increased violence in Afghanistan even during the three-day ceasefire agreed between Taliban and the Afghan government. The Taliban have not only disowned the recent terrorist attacks but also condemned the violence in which many lives were lost including young school girls and faithful’s in a mosque near Kabul. The violence must have alarmed the Taliban leadership of the obtaining situation that may lead to from bad to worse during and after the withdrawal of foreign troops. This realisation may have undoubtedly convinced the Taliban to engage with the Afghan government officials aimed at reaching an understanding to prevent the sprouting of an ugly situation in the country after the complete withdrawal of foreign troops.

Imagine, the tumultuous windfall of optimism among the Afghan people if Taliban leadership and the Ghani government agree to the fundamentals of negotiated settlement of Afghanistan followed by the declaration of ceasefire eloquently demonstrating their commitment to strive for the political settlement. The Afghan people have suffered a lot during the two decades long fury of conflict and turmoil and they deserve better. The recent attacks by the IS or other militant groups, causing huge loss of lives in Kabul, must have given the requisite impetus to the Afghan government and Taliban leadership in favour of engaging themselves meaningfully and sincerely in their bid to get the country out of the hell-fire of conflict.

It is worth mentioning again that Taliban have not only disowned recent attacks but also condemned the barbarity in the strongest terms inferring they are equally perturbed over the despicable attacks in which many innocent people lost their lives. Their condemnation of the terrorist attacks is indicative of their desire to see normalcy returns to Afghanistan. Clearly, only peaceful and united Afghanistan may neutralise such threats those have been looming large again over the horizon of the country. For this, the immediate engagement between Taliban and the Kabul government is the dire need to create enabling environment leading to the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political settlement.

Also imagine, if Taliban and Kabul government continue at the loggerheads clinging at their respective maximal position without offering space to the other side in the interest of negotiations, then the country may surely plunge into bloody civil war like a Hobbesian dystopian state where all are against all. That is frightening scenario even to think of where violence and ugliness may rule the roost. The resultant huge exodus in the neighbouring countries with predictable consequence of instability in the region and beyond cannot be ruled out.

The IS and other defeated militant groups may get new lease of life. The much awaited opportunity to join hands with Taliban to from a united front to capture Afghanistan as their first target may not be deemed as surreal. The emerging scenario may be more dangerous than to the prior and of post period of 9/11 attack of New York. The international terrorists hoards like IS, al-Qaeda and their ilk may be sitting together planning and executing their designs against the peace and security of the rest of the world with vengeance. The terrorist outfits may surely pose security challenge to Pakistan as a formidable enemy due to the likely unabated availability of safe haven inside Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s fencing between the two countries may greatly help to block the infiltrators but it will surely not be able to block the mass migration of Afghans if civil war erupts in the country. Pakistan already has three million Afghan refugees on its soil that need to be repatriated if Afghan issues are solved by the warring parties. Pakistan is indeed very keen to see peace in Afghanistan because peace in Afghanistan will ensure peace in Pakistan and beyond.

Understandably, US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan has already begun. The worry of neighbouring country Pakistan is indeed consequential as the likely void that the drawdown may create. The situation in Afghanistan may surely turn uglier if Afghan Taliban and Ghani government fail to arrive at some understanding reflective of their shared commitment to resolve the issue of power sharing amicably and holistically. Both the parties need to exhibit flexibility in their stated position to serve as a fodder in the quest of political settlement of longstanding issue of Afghanistan.

The issue is extremely complicated due to ideological banalities. It has wheels within wheels those may run counter due to the internal and external dynamics imbedded in strategic and domestic power politics rivalries. The absence of flexibility rooted in zero-sum game of the relevant parties may be off to a non-starter with little hope of progress in the negotiations. The conduct of Afghan government and Taliban, therefore, must be prone to in favour of political settlement because the primacy of the pursuit of military solution had caused nothing but deaths and destruction in Afghanistan.

The military solution also remained inconclusive notwithstanding active and the fullest engagement of the US and NATO allies backed by highly trained troops equipped to the teeth with the state of the art weaponry. It may be recalled that allies attacked the country with the calculations to impose military solutions within months if not weeks but could not succeed even after more than two decades of war. They might have won the battles at the outset but had certainly lost the war. They were now leaving the battle field unilaterally with an addition of another dishonorable grave in the “Graveyard of Great Empire”.

Certainly, the US and NATO allies are in the mode of ‘cut and run’ as they had exhausted all the military options in Afghanistan. They could not defeat Taliban who remained invincible with 60% of Afghanistan swathes under their control. The US President Biden’s unequivocal decision to complete the withdrawal by September this year sounded final literary and figuratively when reviewed in the whole perspective of Afghan war.

However, the drawdown may surely create a calamitous vacuum in Afghanistan that should be ideally filled up both by Taliban and incumbent Afghan government if they want to save the country from anarchy and chaos. The Afghan government and Taliban leadership may, therefore, actively engage to hammer out the contours of the anticipated negotiations well before the deadline of withdrawal of the foreign troops thus denying the opportunity to the spoilers who must be flexing their muscles to take plunge to build upon the ruins.

The Kabul government and Taliban must not provide such opportunity to the vicious bystanders who are quite capable of showing no mercy to the people of Afghanistan in the pursuit of their sordid agenda. IS, al-Qaeda and their ilk are obviously desperately looking forward of a collusion with some other outfits. The unleashing of conflagration and terrorism of unimaginable proportion may be foregone conclusion of such collusion pushing Afghanistan yet in another diabolic cycle of conflict with no hope of redemption. The spillover impact of the civil war in Afghanistan may engulf the neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Iran in particular and to lesser degree to the Central Asian Republics. The blowback will also be felt in other big regional countries because the terrorist organisations believe in exporting their ideologies without caring the imperatives of intra-state relations.

Pakistan policy makers have to be well-prepared to face the eventuality of worst case scenario, and must not be caught napping. However, Pakistan may not spare any stone unturned in its endeavours to use its influence on Afghan Taliban to bring them home to facilitate the ‘Afghan-owned and Afghan-led settlement’ of the Afghan issue.

Pakistan has high stakes in the political settlement of the Afghanistan issue for being neighbouring country. Pakistan shares long border with Afghanistan consisting the population on both sides sharing traditions, culture and ethnicity. The Pakistan government has been formally and repeatedly expressing its commitment with the Afghan government and Taliban to facilitate the peaceful political settlement of the issue. No doubt, the Pakistan policy makers are sincerely in favour of seeing Afghanistan as peaceful and prosperous neighbour as it is in the country’s own vital interest.

The Pakistan leadership may visit the Afghan capital to convey Pakistan’s unequivocal commitment for the negotiated settlement. The criticality of this aspect cannot be overemphasized. Pakistan needs to maintain a delicate balance while dealing with the Taliban and the Afghan government without an iota of impression of taking sides.

The alarm bells are ringing in Pakistan in the face of recurring terrorist attacks in Balochistan and the border areas of KP symptomatic of the regrouping of the TTP with IS those have found safe havens on the Afghan territory. The member of the Parliament from Waziristan, Mohsin Drawer, in his recent letter to the President of Pakistan, has forewarned that the TTP is regrouping and has become active lately. He has underscored the importance of taking the urgent steps to pre-empt them from wreaking havoc again in formal Fata regions and Balochistan. Undoubtedly, TTP will play the role of spoilers to create misunderstanding among Pakistan, Ghani government and Taliban by design to sabotage the negotiations between Taliban and Afghan government. Their success in off tracking the negotiations may surely provide them much sought after opportunity to carry out terrorist activities in Pakistan in the midst of acute instability in Afghanistan. The shared ideological commonalities may unite them for the establishment ideological state as per their vision. The evil pursuit may be nipped at the outset by intelligent move meant to alienate TTP form Afghan Taliban. Afghan Taliban should adhere to the Doha Peace agreement that stipulated that Afghanistan government shall not provide safe havens to the terrorist outfits on its soil.

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