Peace Agreement and its Implementation – “Worries”

Peace in Afghanistan, a desire that is being pursued by the Afghans first and others later yet, the warmongers and beneficiaries have been making all-out efforts to keep the battleground alive so as to reap as much as they desire. Those, who have worked tirelessly for the peace must be aspiring to witness the occasion of the peace signing ceremony on February 29, 2020. Let’s hope that Afghan’s dream comes true and peace prevails.

During September 2019, Afghan Taliban stated that they are ready to negotiate and their doors are open for discussion. Recalling the efforts of last year, hopes were high and expectations were that peace deal would be inked but President Trump’s statement of abandoning the talks stalled the process and things went wary for the time being. Sense prevailed and the negotiations were resumed after a break in December 2019. During this uncertainty period, presidential election results were announced and Ashraf Ghani was declared the President.

The ongoing peace negotiations have finally met one of its mile-stone of temporary cease-fire or “Reduction in Violence” as per understanding between the US and Taliban, for one week starting from 22 February till 29 February. Another development or speculation or announcement is the signing of peace deal that is to be held on 29 February 2020. After the seven days, if the outcome is positive, both sides will move to the next phase of inter-Afghan dialogue.

So far, the progress on reduction in violence is encouraging and hopes are high about the signing of a peace deal. The General populace in Kabul are hopeful and happy over the developments. The political uncertainties are making the atmosphere a little tense. Abdullah Abdullah, declaring himself as president and Dostum supporting him with challenging the IEC election announcement, is a hurdle in the proceedings. Inter-Afghan dialogue, which has to kick start after 29 February, after peace agreement signing ceremony will be facing the challenge of who and whom to talk.

The peace process is likely to face: the legitimacy of the president, who will be leading the talks from the government side so, the political uncertainties will be contributing to an uncertain peace process. If the situation of political divide persists where will Kabul be moving to? How will the US react to the crisis? Will we witness another unity government like resolve or sense will prevail, according to some, and Abdullah will set-aside in wake of peace and settlement?  The questions are worth consideration.

If the confrontation between the two presidential rivals continues, the option which looks workable for the US is to install an interim government. A setup that would be broad-based, comprising political cum warlords cum religious leaders, so as to avoid any criticism from Taliban especially. Most interesting would be to include ethnic representation, Pashtun from both sides, the Taliban and Afghan government side will have to form part of the group holding discussions. This way the US will be able to exercise all its options of materializing the perceived peace and settlement.

The hurdles in way are the reaction and response of political leaders like Karzai, Ghani, Abdullah, Dostum, Mohaqiq, Zia Masood and few others. The sitting parliament is likely to react with more hardened stance, as they have been electorally elected through parliamentary elections after delay of years. Taliban would agree to the interim arrangement as that would suit their long-standing mistrust over the sitting government and leadership. However, the groups within Taliban rank and file, though speculated, is also a problem which may cause delay of continuation of unrest.

The general populace response is predictable and that would be wait and see, as they are fed-up with uncertainties and are desperately looking and expecting peace and security. Warlords are the most unpredictable faction, as they will be expecting share in interim and subsequently also. Anything short of their demands will create further instability and may stall the second step of the peace process, the Intra-Afghan Dialogue.

The situation is encouraging, in context to reduction in violence but is serious in context to political developments. Ghani and Abdullah’s match over presidential result is adding to difficulties for the US and Zalmay will again be at shuttle diplomacy drive to resolve the ongoing political crisis, this time not with Taliban and Pakistan but within Afghanistan. Ghani is a US favorite and the US will try to make things go Ghani way, but making Abdullah agree is also not an easy task.

Afghanistan is not as calm as it appears, Taliban response to intra-Afghan is also to be seen in context to recent political developments. The interim set-up arrangements will also attract resistance. Other waring factions like Da’esh may also contribute to insecurity. The spoilers like India, who does not look at Taliban as an option even, may work towards their vested ends. Pakistan is likely to respond in following the US way of handling, as that suits Pakistan’s option of peace with broad-based arrangements at Kabul.

A Fresh Start – Pak-USA Relations

By Zara Qurban

Pakistan and USA relationships have been nothing but a series of roller-coaster rides, there were fluctuations and vacillation. Currently, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is at the White House where he was given warm welcome by the USA President Trump and both the leaders shook hands. PM of Pakistan has had meetings with Trump administration to bring Pak-USA relations on good terms. This is PM’s first ever visit since he came into power but it is quite evident to the whole world that the acrimony has dwindled and the two leaders are having meaningful exchange of remarks regarding Afghanistan and Kashmir issue.

While addressing Afghanistan issue Trump remarked that if USA wanted to fight a war and win then Afghanistan would have been wiped off the face of earth in ten days but USA does not want that and he went on saying that he has good vibes coming from PM Imran Khan that he will help USA get out of Afghanistan to save millions of lives in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Trump said that, unfortunately, past leadership in Pakistan was not putting enough effort in resolving the issues which made the relations bitter and dry. In following remarks Trump said that it wants to bring Afghanistan into a political process and that Pakistan should help USA to achieve that like they have been trying to bring Taliban on negotiation table.

Afghanistan was never a Pakistan’s war but it participated to bring peace and security to the region. War on terror has cost Pakistan its reputation in the international community, 70,000 innocent lives, billions of dollars, law and order, economy and most importantly its peace and security. PM Imran Khan said it loud that there no military solution to Afghanistan, only political solution can save the lives and economies on both sides. The efforts of Pakistan in continuing peace process between Afghanistan and USA was also recognized by Trump and PM Imran Khan showed consent and willingness to cooperate more in putting control over militancy.

Following the Afghanistan issue came the most important issue between India and Pakistan: Kashmir. PM Imran Khan said that Pakistan has tried numerous times to resolve the issue through dialogues and without any bloodshed but India’s rigid behavior is making it impossible. Trump offered mediation and facilitation to end this issue and that Modi made the request to resolve the issue but right after this comment India’s representative denied any placement of requests for USA to be the mediator. India is still failing to realize that the only meaningful solution to the Kashmir issue is dialogues, not coercive measures or violence.

So far the meeting is being looked upon as a great effort to reset the pace of Pakistan-USA relations, both the leaders have appreciated each other and many topics are being discussed under serious note to ensure peace in the region. Pakistan has showed its willingness to have better relations based on trust and truth with USA to move forward and redesign the bilateral relationships.


Is Pakistan Still Relevant – Afghanistan

Brig Ishaq Ahmed – Retd

The peace is so elusive specially in Afghanistan, because the desirous and vested players have divergent objectives even in fostering and while working towards peace. It took 18 years for the U.S. to reach the belief that peace through war is not possible in Afghanistan. The battle ground for the foreign forces even in recent times has become a grave yard for the mighty global powers. The longest war in the recent history of America has becomes a lost war. Why did it take so long to reach the present option of Talking to Taliban? Was terrorism elimination actually the objective? Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia and Central Asia, are main or subsidiary targets. Global dominance through military endeavors is the ultimate aim.

Fighting Taliban for an extended period was and is not a correct proposition, though they are far below the mighty U.S and Allies, in all fields of war fighting arsenals, strength, technology less the motivation and dedication, where Taliban are for ahead. Another important factor which the U.S ignored while invading Afghanistan was the ultimate aim and objectives of the war viz-a-viz the Taliban. The war expenses, that too at extended distances, was yet another factor, probably not given due consideration while invading Afghanistan. It’s a historic repeat of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and ultimate defeat due to prolonged engagement, do consider that Soviet were next door and the U.S. is thousands of miles away.

For the U.S. Afghan war is of 18 years but for the Afghans it has been four decades that they are at war.  Afghan peace efforts have reached the difficult stage, where the U.S is trying to make Taliban agree on the cease fire and Taliban asking for the exit time frame from the American. Another important ingredient of the peace talks is Taliban not talking to the sitting Afghan government.

Seventh round has already begin in Doha, Qatar. The outcome is uncertain as the three basic points stated above are almost on deadlock. The U.S is not prepared to give the time frame of exit which Taliban are seeking since day one. Taliban will never agree on the cease fire as they are at position of strength and their strength lies in fighting not politics. So, the stalemate is obvious.

Pakistan has suffered due to the faulty decisions of their rulers and the invading parties may it be the Soviets or the American. According to Pakistani perspective Soviet came in for warm waters whereas they never had that objective in sight. Yet Pakistan jumped or was dragged to contest Soviets and is facing the Afghan resentment till date. Again, the American invasion was against Al Qaeda and Taliban or war against terrorism in Afghanistan yet Pakistan was asked to be an ally or will be considered an enemy.  Pakistan followed the dictates and is facing the brunt from all including Taliban the so-called friends of Pakistan.

Repeatedly asked to do more and more not only by the American but the Afghans also, Pakistan is still the trouble creator despite initiating peace efforts like Murree and even the recent one being spearheaded by Zalmay Khalizad. Having made them agree to negotiate peace, is Pakistan considered a peace seeker today is a question that we may ask yourself, because for the Afghans and even the U.S we are still not doing our best. Are we still relevant in Afghan great game?

Pakistan has suffered immensely in terms of human losses, resources utilization, insecurity, political instability, economic degeneration, ethnic and sectarian divide and above all image and trust damage. Having lost in all domains, Pakistan is still working towards peace in Afghanistan, because insecure neighborhood is unfavorable to the highly suffered Pakistan. What Pakistan has done over the years for peace in Afghanistan may not be taken as contribution but a compulsion. Every country and nation have the right to work for its own interests. All major powers in the recent times have created and fought proxies within and outside, Pakistan is no exception.

To stay relevant and not to lose more, Pakistan played for her interests and has the right to do so, but not at the cost of others. Note of concern is that today Pakistan is considered as a problem creator and not a solution. The question remains is Pakistan playing a spoiler role in the Afghan crisis, if yes what will it gain or what has it gained over so many decades? What has been the prime objective of Pakistan in keeping Afghanistan troubled?

Relevance in the ongoing great game in Afghanistan and the region is probably the only objective Pakistan should look and work for. But is Pakistan relevant now. With Taliban directly engaged in talks with the U.S the Pakistan’s stake may be alive but relevance has probably diminished. Pakistan may have some influence over Taliban but are not the driving force for Taliban.

The recent engagement of the sizable number of political oppositions less Taliban at Bhurban, Murree, is indicative of the changing strategies. Visit of Ashraf Ghani is also an endeavor to remain alive. The vested players in the Afghan game must keep in mind that efforts to keep Pakistan out of the resolve process is not likely to yield positive, as Pakistan has been the major brunt bearer in last four decades of Afghan instability. Any solution without taking into consideration Pakistan’s apprehensions may not last long. Indian influence in Afghanistan, anti-Pakistan elements support from Afghan territory at behest of India (Baluchistan separatists, TTP leaders and fighters in Afghanistan), Durand Line, Pashtunistan and refugees repatriation are some the areas that must get due place in the post Unity Government in Afghanistan.

Doha Talks – 7th Round

By Juma Khan Sufi

The 7th round of talks, some say eighth round, between Taliban and Americans jointly sponsored by Qatar and Germany has apparently ended on a positive note, but without any usual upbeat statement coming from Zalmay Khalilzad. It seems that in general terms some sort of understanding on all four elements of the issue, troops withdrawal, non-use of Afghan soil for any terrorist activity, intra-Afghan dialogue and ceasefire, has reached.  But there still remain major irritants. And the devil is in the details.

Earlier on 7-8 July meeting of Taliban with Afghan renowned figures in which some representatives of Ghani government also participated in personal capacity whereby the some sort of road map for political settlement was agreed upon also did not touch the specifics as interpretation of Islam and its implementation with regard to democratic freedoms and women rights to get education and work within the framework of Islam are open to Taliban interpretation.  The main positive thing about this intra-Afghan gathering was that both sides listened to each other with patience and tolerance without resorting to any acrimony.  They freely mixed with one another, dined together and prayed together. The outcome was encouraging, but not wholly satisfactory.  Nor the meeting was meant to replace the off-repeated intra-Afghan Dialogue mantra.  It was just a continuation of Moscow format albeit the participation of some Afghan government representatives in personal capacity.

Khalilzad rush to Beijing after ending the talks at Doha without issuing any categorical statement and thereby convening a joint meeting of China, Russia and Pakistan on July 11-12 which called upon Taliban to immediately agree to ceasefire and direct talks with Afghan Government and others have put doubt upon the earlier ‘substantive progress’ statement of Khalilzad.

Though Khalilzad has stated that they were not cutting and running out of Afghanistan but were working out a peace deal guaranteeing the interest of all sides and future US relationship with Afghanistan. But Taliban rightly consider that they are the winning side and to expect them to follow the American thinking is too much. This indicates that Taliban are still sticking to their guns and they are not yet ready to silence their guns on the battlefront and bring the civilian casualties to zero as agreed upon in the intra-Afghan meeting. Rather they have increased their militant activities after the agreed upon roadmap for peace. They consider fighting their weapon of victory and in peace, or put it exactly in their view the premature ceasefire, they see their demise. This fact has been borne out to them in practice.  They think that time is on their side and are in no hurry to cut a deal.

Americans are also a divided house.  The voices coming out of Pentagon are not in favor of any withdrawal and consider it premature.  They think that such a withdrawal tantamount to strategic mistake.  They argue that such a scenario would cost dearly to America and especially to the invincibility of US hard power. On the other hand, President Trump is all for the pullout.  He is facing reelection and wants to abide by his pre-poll promise to withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible.  Stressing upon the second elements within the four ingredients of any settlement about the pledge on the part of Taliban that in future Afghan soil would not be used for terrorist activities against US and its allies amply demonstrate that Americans have accepted the ultimate sovereignty of Taliban not as a partner but as a dominant force in any future dispensation at Kabul.

This state-of-affairs has also put India in difficult situation.  They were priding on their ‘strategic partnership’ with US and now US is turning to Pakistan, as well as China and Russia for help.  They are in the tight corner being ignored and not consulted or assigning any task of active partnership for any Afghan settlement.  Here the interests of India and Ghani government coincide. They are worried about any enhancement of relationship between US and Pakistan.  This goes against Indian efforts to isolate Pakistan. Now Pakistan is assuming the role at the Centre stage.

Ashraf Ghani and his government are also not happy with American stance.  They are rightly worried about their future and the annulment of 18 years long gains.  Ashraf Ghani per force turned to Pakistan for help which he always chastised in his outbursts.  Without active involvement of Pakistan any peace deal in Afghanistan is illusive.  Pakistan has a major stake after US.  Inclusive and comprehensive settlement is in the interest of Pakistan and peace of the region.  Times have changed and the sole power of Taliban at Kabul can induce another spell of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.  Such a situation can also incite more severe civil war in the country and can even lead to the dismemberment of Afghanistan.  Taliban should be prevailed upon to choose the right and sensible course.  War is no more acceptable.  The present acceptability of Taliban would evaporate the moment the world powers come to the conclusion that Taliban are no more partner of peace.

Now when some draft agreement between US and Taliban has agreed upon on all the four issues of the peace settlement, the mistrust of each other intentions constitutes the main roadblocks.  US would want Taliban to abide by the agreement in letter and spirit as Taliban are a free force amenable to no outside influence, while Taliban would like the assistance of European and Asian countries to guarantee and oversee the complete withdrawal of US from Afghanistan. The agreement reached between the two sides needs to be signed in front of international community.  Both sides need guarantees.  The US and international community would like Pakistan to guarantee Taliban to adhere to the agreement.  This would put Pakistan in dilemma.

US are tired of war in Afghanistan.  It is eager to pullout.  But it wants its prestige unscathed.  The world also needs a peaceful Afghanistan.  Pakistan has all along advocated negotiated settlement, though throughout blamed for harboring Taliban and not doing enough to control them.  The region cannot prosper without a peaceful Afghanistan.  Ordinary Afghans are thirsty for peace as the brunt of war is borne by them.  The only thing is about to rein in Taliban ambitions and prevail upon them to look beyond their sectarian and partisan interests.  Otherwise, if American withdrawal took place without some sort of sensible settlement, then Taliban would not be able to run the affairs of their country hassle-free and in peace.  Taliban must understand this. The world would put the onus on Pakistan.