The US and the Taliban have reached agreement after nineteen years of war and fifteen months of negotiations. The agreement is the first step on the road to peace in Afghanistan and comes after many lives were lost, trillions of dollars wasted and unbelievable suffering inflicted on the people of Afghanistan. Credit for this landmark achievement is being given to many but the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan the Afghan-American Zalmay Khalilzad is rarely mentioned. His skill, his patience and his untiring efforts led to the agreement—no doubt he had the welfare of his country of origin and the people at heart.
Right after the agreement, talk has started about ‘spoilers’ who will muddy the waters and create problems for implementation. There is talk of factions who are based in the ungoverned spaces of Afghanistan and are used for undermining and destabilizing neighboring countries—especially Pakistan. The Taliban may or may not exercise total control over all the multiple groups operating in and from Afghanistan—including the IS-K. The next step is the start of an intra-Afghan dialogue and the Afghan President has set the tone for that by stating that he is not prepared to release the Taliban prisoners in government custody as stipulated in the Agreement. He may be taking a maximalist position and regaining importance as he was largely sidelined ever since direct talks started between the US and the Taliban. The warlords may also be flexing their muscles with their patrons in neighboring countries watching. Should the Afghan government come out of the shadow of the former Northern Alliance and should the Taliban stop seeing the Afghan government as a propped up puppet regime and a carry-over of their nemesis the Northern Alliance, then the intra Afghan dialogue can succeed and keep the ‘spoilers and other destructionists at bay. At stake is the safety and future prosperity of the people of Afghanistan. A powerful incentive will be the need for continued US financial aid and forceful US diplomacy will be needed—especially because there seems to be a rift in Afghan government ranks. Recent articles by Sirajuddin Haqqani from the Taliban side and Amrullah Saleh the former Afghan National Security Adviser have been encouraging.
The Agreement is a vindication of the Pakistan position. Neither the Taliban nor any Pakistani was involved in the 911 attack so instead of treating the attack as a crime and punishing the perpetrators and arresting those who backed them the US declared a war and that set in motion the tragedy that has been Afghanistan and by extension the Middle East. Wars have consequences especially if they become intractable prolonged conflicts with no military solution as was the case in Afghanistan. The recently published Afghan Papers quote highest level US officials admitting that no one knew what the US was doing in Afghanistan and what was to be the end game. Pakistan was made the scape goat for US failure and accused of duplicity when all Pakistan was doing was keeping its own interests upper most in the environment of uncertainty, changing strategies and unpredictable actions by the US. Pakistan repeatedly pointed out the futility of military action and the need for dialogue. Now that there is an Agreement that points the way to peace Pakistan can put its full weight behind the implementation of the Agreement. After Afghanistan, Pakistan has the most to gain from peace in Afghanistan and a good government to government relationship.
Now is the time for Pakistan to put all facets of its diplomacy especially economic diplomacy to work. We need to regain the Afghan market and move our banking, trade and financial institutions into Afghanistan and extend all our facilities to the future political dispensation in Afghanistan. In due course Pakistan may host talks with the Taliban and reach out for discussions with the Afghan government. We may also consider hosting talks between Iran, the Central Asian States bordering Afghanistan, Russia and China—in a carry-over of previous dialogue formats. Pakistan must have its ear to the ground to detect opportunities and pitfalls and it must continuously read the writing on the wall in Afghanistan and above all act and not react belatedly. President Trump has achieved much by the consistency in his policy in Afghanistan and his decision to pull out of a disastrous conflict—this has convergence with Pakistan’s view and is an opportunity to strengthen and widen the US-Pakistan relationship. The internal security that Pakistan has achieved through enormous sacrifices must not be jeopardized at any cost—after all it is one of the few countries in the world that has sidelined the terrorist threat and changed its narrative so that such a threat does not raise its head again within its territory.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)