US’ Latest Efforts for Reconciliation in Afghanistan
A US delegation led by Zalmay Khalilzad along with Alice Wells and Lisa Curtis visited Pakistan from 17th to 20th January 2019, simultaneously followed by Senator Lindsay Graham along with Gen Joseph and had comprehensive meetings with Pakistani leadership, projecting a lot of hope and desire for reconciliation in Afghanistan that can bring around a suitable end state with end to militancy primarily by insurgent Afghan Taliban. After applying maximum pressure on Pakistan by all possible means, and having exhausted all other options to reconcile with Afghan Taliban, USA has reverted back to Pakistan with mere feel good statements ostensibly to mitigate the self created trust deficit; without much substance when it comes to any substantial relief to Pakistan in political, diplomatic, economic or even military domain.
It may be noted that despite some serious differences with his administration especially in Pentagon and Langley, POTUS Trump is trying to fulfil his promises to disengage from maximum overseas commitments, which are considered burden to American economy for bringing around more funds for internal buildup and better spending elsewhere, that must happen well before next presidential elections in 2020. Whether that will make America great again or weaker will remain to be seen with fingers crossed. Trump’s controversial announcement for complete withdrawal from Syria and phased withdrawal from Afghanistan remains subject of much debate and speculations but what concerns Pakistan and other bordering countries is the possibility and probability of Afghanistan’s relapse into greater chaos and 90s like situation with catastrophic implications for the region.
While it is good to hear some sweetening statements from visiting American officials, and fine to see smiling Pakistani leadership’s faces, however, a word of caution is considered appropriate,…..once bitten , twice shy. It is a good step that Pakistan has decided to host reconciliation talks in Islamabad, with phenomenal efforts required to make Taliban talk to Afghan government or even Zalmay Khalilzad, it must be made abundantly clear to American counter parts that the onus of success or failure of talks lies on the shoulder of three main actors i.e. USA, Afghan Government and Afghan Taliban….rest all enablers can at best assist. Pakistani side is expected to have done their homework meticulously though, yet it will be prudent to explicitly ask American to announce and implement few steps before expecting Pakistan to play an extremely delicate and precarious role of making reconciliation happen. Few major steps considered pre-requisites for playing a key role may include immediate lifting of all economic and military sanctions, clearance of due CSF funds, at least 50% payment of the economic losses suffered by Pakistan during the last 17 years that should be much less than the annual budget spent in Afghanistan without any positive outcome, relief on FATF and by IMF on softer terms, free trade agreement with Pakistan, taking care of venom spitting on Pakistan and wicked exploitation of the current impasse by Afghan government, return of Afghan refugees, addressing Pakistan’s concerns with respect to Indian nefarious role in Afghanistan, playing a constructive role in resolution of IOK and water dispute resolution between India and Pakistan. Obviously, nobody other than American President himself can deliver on the above brass-tacks; hence, a visit by Trump to Pakistan in earliest possible time frame is considered imperative. As for making the Taliban agree to sit on the table, their demands and wish list needs to be discussed with White House by Pakistan for maximum accommodation; only then one can hope for carving a pathway for a lasting peaceful solution to a lingering conflict.
Meanwhile, making everyone cognizant of the fact that when it comes to the question of peace in Afghanistan, “ there’s many a slip between the cup and lip”, Pakistan must work on nitty-gritty of hosting a summit level conference on Afghanistan including USA, China, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, KSA, UAE and Qatar that may either precede or be followed up after Trump’s visit to Pakistan; remaining mindful of the diplomatic sensitivities and the regional consensus needed for a permanent solution to malignant Afghan conundrum. For Pakistan that has been plagued by great game and war against terrorism and its allied ills for the last 40 years, it is considered vital to regain leadership role in the region as well as among Muslim countries under a new political leadership that is considered incorruptible and bold by all and sundry.
Saleem Qamar Butt, SI (M) is a retired senior Army officer with rich experience in Military & Intelligence Diplomacy and is a consultant on Strategic Analysis for many Newspapers, magazines and PTV. (firstname.lastname@example.org)