Pakistan is the most unfortunate country. She was always the worst casualty every time Afghanistan became a war ground of super powers. Despite this, the country always enjoyed the ability to bring an end to wars in Afghanistan and restore peace.
Always given the key role of orchestrating a truce between warring sides in Afghanistan, Pakistan has been marred by terrorism and bloodshed for about three decades. Subversion engulfed the country in the 1980s, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and galloped to unprecedented heights after 9/11 and particularly in the wake of military operations in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in 2004 to flush out al-Qaeda operatives and the Taliban.
Since 2011, U.S. and NATO forces have been in search of a strategy for a face-saving pullout from Afghanistan. But, the failure of repeated attempts to hold talks with the Taliban and mounting Taliban attacks on army garrisons and convoys pushed them into an embarrassing situation where they were left with no option but to seek Pakistan’s help. The U.S. asked Islamabad to release some key Taliban leaders in its custody as a confidence building measure to encourage the Taliban to provide them safe passage out of Afghanistan in return.
Pakistan already released 26 Taliban leaders from custody last year. While eight key leaders were set free this month, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Biradar one of the founder members of Taliban government in 1994 and a close aide of Taliban, and Supreme Leader Mullah Omar. The Kabul administration and Afghan Peace Council have been demanding his release for quite some time to make the proposed talks with Taliban fruitful.
Washington also desperately needs Pakistan’s help in installing a stable government in Kabul which could prevent the country from another civil war after U.S. forces leave at the end of a 12-year war. It has been one of the costliest wars in world history and has left Afghanistan in complete devastation. Pakistan’s geo-political status and historic importance in Afghanistan’s matters has once again put the country in a position where it has acquired the most important status in the region regarding the realization of the dream of peace in Afghanistan.
Islamabad must come to terms with the fact that one can change friends and foes, but not neighborsMansoor Jafar
Islamabad must come to terms with the fact that one can change friends and foes, but not neighbors. By taking all ground realities into account, Pakistan needs to rethink its regional policies and ensure good relations not only with Afghanistan but all other neighbors, including India and Russia, for the sake of securing a better and prosperous future. It must be said, however, it already has good relations with China and Iran.
Another ground reality in Afghanistan’s future that should be kept in mind is that a comeback of the Taliban government seems impossible after the pullout of U.S. forces. The U.S. and Kabul have been urging Islamabad to help install a broad-based government in Kabul in the post-U.S. scenario. This should be sufficient to keep the entirety of Afghanistan united and should help to keep friendly relations with its neighbors and the whole world.
Talking to the Taliban
While the U.S. is pushing hard to have fruitful talks with the Taliban to ensure the safe pullout of its forces, Pakistan has been reeling under a renewed wave of fierce terrorism and suicide attacks following last week’s call on the government and the armed forces to hold peace talks with the Taliban. The call was sanctioned by all political parties in the country which gathered upon the request of the government. The All Parties Conference call to hold talks with the Taliban was the third attempt by all political forces in the country during the last seven years which urged the military and political leadership to negotiate peace with the Taliban who have been fighting against Pakistani forces and are involved in terrorism to avenge the military operation in the federally administered tribal areas (FATA) along Afghan borders.
The country was rocked by a twin suicide bomb attack at a Church in Peshawar on Sunday leaving 80 dead and 50 wounded. It was followed by last week’s roadside blast in Dir, about 60 kilometers north of Peshawar. The blast killed a two-star military general and some other officers.
These two incidents are nothing new in the decade long bloodshed in the country that has left over 70 thousand people dead. But, the significance of both incidents was that they gave substantial support to those elements, both in political quarters and the media, who have been opposing any kind of talks with the Taliban and calling for tougher, decisive military action to wipe them out.
As a result, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was prompt in announcing that he was unable to proceed further on the talks with the Taliban as warranted by the All Parties Conference.
The security agencies say the Taliban, or those over twenty militant groups working under an umbrella of the outlawed Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had been receiving funds, arms and technical support from outside Pakistani borders. However, secular elements, especially the majority of media anchorpersons and analysts, have been opposing talks with the Taliban which, they argue, would show the state’s weakness against the militants.
However, some saner politicians like Imran Khan and a majority of religious leaders have been arguing that 80 percent of the Taliban groups are those who acknowledge the Pakistani state’s supremacy but had to join the bandwagon to avenge the incessant military operations and drone attacks that killed their kith and kin. The supporters of talks with the Taliban argue that by engaging them in fruitful talks, the wounds and sorrows of such groups could be redressed and their support could be won over, restoring long lost peace and tranquility in the country.
The fact must not be ignored that terrorism and insurgency in the country cannot be automatically ceased after a U.S. pullout from Afghanistan and the restoration of political normalcy there. Pakistan could not realize the dream of lasting peace unless private militias exist in the country. Ones which have the confidence and means of dictating state policies.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar