Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan
As the completion of US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan is drawing closer, the security situation in Afghanistan is gradually going from bad to worse with every passing day. The fast dwindling peace prospects in Afghanistan after the recalcitrant Taliban and the Afghan government refused to sit together to negotiate a peace deal, Pakistan finds itself in a most awkward predicament.
Pakistan is being seen by both the US and the Afghan government through the lenses of scepticism with regard to its role as a peace broker. They overlook the reality that peace in Afghanistan is a shared responsibility and can’t be achieved by either Pakistan or Afghanistan alone. In this regard, major responsibility lies with the Afghan government and the Taliban; Pakistan can act only as a facilitator. The key of peace and stability is in the hands of Afghan government and Taliban.
Pakistan understands that internal conflict in Afghanistan is political in nature and is primarily a battle for power between the Taliban and the Afghan government and Pakistan has nothing to do with it. It’s unjust to embroil Pakistan into Afghanistan’s internal issue and lay a blame on it for what all is happening in Afghanistan, and which is a purely internal problem. The US and the Afghan government shouldn’t forget that the “Doha Peace Accord” was made possible only through Pakistan’s sincere efforts and aggressive shuttle diplomacy which ultimately paved the way for the US troops withdrawal. The conflict being political in nature, Pakistan is advocating for a political solution through a comprehensive dialogue. Afghans must understand that violence and reconciliation can’t go together.
Pakistan has always been stressing upon moving towards a ceasefire and controlling the incidents of violence. But unfortunately, Afghan leadership has always been found sceptical about Pakistan’s intentions which is being expressed off and on. The recent statement by Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor bears witness to Afghan leadership’s mistrust about Pakistan. Such gestures could only sabotage the peace efforts.
Afghan leadership sees Pakistan as part of the problem instead of seeing it as part of the solution. Both the US and Afghan government believe that Pakistan has a firm control over Afghan Taliban. They fail to appreciate that the Taliban are an independent entity and are not bound to obey Pakistan’s bidding. Pakistan can only request them to come to a negotiating table and resolve the conflict through a peaceful dialogue. It’s entirely up to them to act upon Pakistan’s advice or reject it. There is an English proverb which goes: “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
Pakistan has been making constant endeavours to persuade the Taliban to resolve the internal conflict through negotiations and mutual understanding as it firmly believes that there is no military solution to Afghan problem. Pakistan has always been trying to bring the warring factions to a negotiating table so that they can iron out their mutual differences through a meaningful dialogue. Pakistan is cognizant of the importance of peace in Afghanistan as peace is imperative for both the countries to achieve economic stability and more so for the reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan. It understands that peace in Afghanistan is in the best interest of Pakistan as war and conflict in Afghanistan has a direct bearing on the security and economic stability of Pakistan. Political turmoil and civil war in Afghanistan can only suit Pakistan’s enemies.
Pakistan is tired of being repeatedly accused of failing to help end Afghan chronic conflict and is continuously being blamed by both the US and the Afghan government for siding with the Taliban and acting against the Afghan government. They have a scant realization that whatever is happening inside Afghanistan is of their own making and Afghan leadership (both Taliban and Afghan government) are squarely responsible for that; Pakistan has no role in it at all. The escalating turmoil in Afghanistan is sure to create instability inside Pakistan thereby adversely impacting its economy. The likely spillover of Afghan refugees into Pakistan as a result of civil war in Afghanistan will add to the economic woes of Pakistan as it has already been hosting more than three million Afghan refugees for the past four decades. Most of these refugees have no intention to return to their homeland as the recurring internal strife and conflict inside Afghanistan is not likely to end any time soon.
Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries particularly Pakistan and Iran are frustrated over the US impetuous withdrawal without reaching a durable solution to the Afghan internal conflict which has the potential to negatively impact the security situation in the neighbouring countries and the entire region the only exception being India who is the major beneficiary of all this turmoil and is using Afghan soil as a staging post to launch terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. The infighting between Afghan government and Taliban suits India to serve its ends as it has a direct bearing on the security and stability of Pakistan.
Moreover, sharing a long porous border stretching over around 3000 kilometres by itself is a huge problem for both the countries that makes Pakistan vulnerable to terrorist infiltration and attacks backed by our archenemy. We have had this kind of experience in not too distant past. For Pakistan detaching itself from events taking place in Afghanistan is neither possible nor an option. Our problems are common. Both the countries have to swim together or drown together. As coalition troops are departing from Afghanistan quitting it in indecent haste and leaving it high and dry without ensuring peace and reconciliation between Taliban and the Afghan government for obvious reasons, civil war resulting into violence and massive bloodshed is more likely to happen. In such a dismal scenario Pakistan needs to be on its guards to ward off any repeat of the past happenings. Our enemies are always on the lookout to grab every opportunity to use it to their advantage and to make Pakistan bleed to the last drop.
Pakistan has played an important role in supporting peace process in Afghanistan. It has been trying to persuade the Taliban to have a dialogue with Afghan government and agree to a power-sharing. Pakistan is trying to bring home to Taliban leadership the fact that it would be difficult for them to move ahead with public sentiments running against them even if they snatch power on the barrel of gun. Hence, there is a need to sit with the Afghan government and find a peaceful solution in order to avoid a civil war that may result in violence and bloodshed. This is the utmost Pakistan can do. Expecting more from Pakistan would be unrealistic as Taliban are an independent entity and are under no obligation to accept what Pakistan tells them to do.