Afghanistan’s High Peace Council’s Visit to Pakistan – An Analysis
Afghan Peace Council’s recent visit to Pakistan carried a very special significance for both Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region. For more than a decade, Afghanistan and Pakistan have suffered tremendously at the hands of terrorism and extremism. It all started with Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent US involvement to deny Soviets a space in Afghanistan. For the purpose, Afghans and volunteers from surrounding Islamic countries were recruited and extensively trained in guerilla warfare by the American CIA. They called them the Afghan Mujahedeen then. America had a purpose in Afghanistan as it wanted to humiliate and force the Soviets out of Afghanistan in revenge for latter’s role in doing the same to them in Vietnam. Pakistan had its own security reasons too in seeing that the Soviets do not succeed in Afghanistan. Historically, Soviets have always wanted to extend their reach to warmer waters of the Indian ocean.
Had they succeeded in Afghanistan, they would have ventured south militarily to access the Arabian Sea. Moreover, Pakistani wounds were comparatively fresh on Soviet complicity in materializing Indian plan to separate eastern wing form Pakistan. America capitalized on Pakistan’s fears and since the interests were same, the two joined hands to force Soviets to quit Afghanistan. Once the US achieved its mission, it conveniently abundant its adopted freedom fighters and quit Afghanistan. The terror attack on World Trade Center in New York in 2001 brought the United States back to the center stage in Afghanistan and dethroned Taliban (formerly Mujahedeen) from the seat of power in Kabul. Taliban leaders went into hiding and some captured whereas their fighters joined by opportunist criminals and banned extremist organizations continued to carry their terrorist activities against the citizens and the respective state in both the countries.
After a decade plus fight against the Freedom fighters and mujahedeen of yesteryears, now the Taliban and insurgents, US is committed to quit Afghanistan by December, 2014. With American public having handed a decisive victory to President Obama over the war mongering lobbies in the United Sates, the chances of a negotiated peace settlement in Afghanistan has become a very strong possibility. US and members of the international community have welcomed Afghan Peace Council’s visit to Pakistan in search of a negotiated peace in Afghanistan. However, the impression that Pakistan enjoys the same clout over all Taliban factions that it used to do in the era of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, may not hold true anymore. Pakistan certainly does not enjoy same influence over Taliban factions which the ‘Afghan High Peace Council’ or the international community are inclined to believe. The fact is that the Taliban who successfully stone walled the American military machines for over a decade are now fully convinced that this Afghan transition time has strategically placed them at a pinnacle from where they can dictate their terms, if any negotiations do take place. Moreover, the UN move to alienate Haqqanis being the major Taliban faction in peace efforts is contrary to peace desires specially at this point of time when US has to quit by 2014 and Afghan Peace Council is expected to deliver on its mandate. Castigating Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization and keeping it out from the Afghan peace negotiations will make the peace process an exercise in futility.
Nevertheless, the talks between the visiting Peace Council and Pakistani officials have been given a wide appreciation at a global level. The release of around fourteen prisoners from Pakistani custody prior and during the visit has also been widely appreciated as a positive gesture reflecting Pakistan’s eternal desire to help bring an end to Afghan morass. The Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid has also appreciated the release of Taliban leaders and sought for more such releases of Taliban leaders from Pakistan jails. Afghanistan has always believed that release of Taliban leaders would enable it to talk to them directly for establishing peace in Afghanistan. All the released Taliban leaders will be provided a ‘safe passage’ under an agreement signed between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan entitling them to move across mutual borders at will to talk peace with Afghan government. It was also under this agreement that Pakistan allowed detained Taliban leaders to travel to Qatar for talks with the US some time back. Over the last couple of years it appears that Afghans are tilting heavily towards the need to talk to Taliban and reconcile with them for the good of Afghanistan. But this willingness gets forestalled by some Afghan leaders, mostly belonging the Northern alliance, who had fought these Taliban for years and are not much inclined to talk to them.
Nevertheless, the spirit in which the Afghan Peace Council and Pakistani officials discussed peace was not seen previously. The fact that the parleys were extended to another day reposed confidence in US, Pakistan and Afghanistan interlocutors that the light on the other end of the tunnel has started glowing for moving forward the peace process. The joint sittings also decided to utilize the powerful clergy to support the peace process by persuading the Taliban to enter peace negotiations and that a meeting between clerics from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be arranged shortly for the purpose.
On the trilateral front comprising US, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the trio has identified nearly two dozen Taliban leaders currently placed in the UN terrorist list that can help move the peace negotiations with the Taliban. Delisting specified Taliban from the UN list will also encourage other insurgents to talk peace. Currently, there are over hundred Taliban who are black-listed for having ties with Al- Qaeda. A trilateral meeting between the countries involved in Afghanistan is scheduled for this month where Pakistan would also ask for the release of some prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for which US has already shown willingness. Their release will indicate that the Afghan peace process has really taken off.
It is of paramount importance that any deal that takes place between the Taliban, the US or Afghanistan collectively or individually, Pakistan is kept on board if such deals were to last overtime. Pakistan on its part will be rightly justified, for all the annihilation that it suffered so far in the Afghan quagmire, to demand some space for its allies in whatever the next government set-up may look like. The new US Ambassador to Pakistan Mr. Richard Olson has reiterated that Pakistan has a key role to play in stabilizing Afghanistan after withdrawal in 2014. Pakistan has always wished peace and stability in Afghanistan and worked accordingly however, divergent interests and conflicting issues between the US and Pakistan on Afghanistan, never permitted Islamabad’s initiatives to take off the ground in the past. Now that US seems in line with its withdrawal plan, Pakistan is being heeded to more. United States and Afghanistan will need to seek extensive cooperation and help from Pakistan not only to stabilize Afghanistan but also for easing out US withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is now for Pakistan how it preserves its interests vis-à-vis the US withdrawal time-line, the region in general and Afghanistan in particular.