Alwaght- The prolonged intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar, between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban delegation has not yet progressed in such a way for an agreement to be reached. War and insecurity has intensified over the past week, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides, Afghan civilians included amongst them. In a landmark move, the chairman of Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) Abdullah Abdullah traveled to Islamabad on Monday for a three-day visit to discuss the Afghan peace process with Pakistani officials. This is Abdullah Abdullah's first visit to Pakistan as the chairman of the High Peace Council since 2018.
Prior to this visit, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the following statement: "Abdullah's visit will greatly help to strengthen relations with Afghanistan and forge a common understanding on the Afghan peace process," Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement after Abdullah met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Intra-Afghan talks are still in its early stages. The Afghan government wants to persuade the Taliban to accept a permanent ceasefire, a demand that has so far been rejected by the insurgent group.
Pakistan's View on Afghan Peace Talks
Covert and overt relations between Islamabad and the Taliban and the country’s influence over the Taliban have always been the cause of controversy, which has led to the Afghan government's distrust of its southern neighbor. However, Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan's new role in pushing the Taliban to negotiate with the United States, and Islamabad's role in shaping intra-Afghan talks, has given Kabul officials hope for constructive engagement with Islamabad to bring peace to Afghanistan.
A few months after Imran Khan was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, in July 2018, a quarrel between the White House and Islamabad intensified. The subject was focused around the amount of US aid intended for Pakistan and that whether America’s role in the war on terror had been effective or not. However, in December 2018, shortly after Zalmay Khalilzad's first visit to the region as a US envoy, Trump sent a letter to Khan asking for his help regarding the Afghan peace process.
Despite Khalilzad’s disbelief, Pakistan agreed to help on this matter. For Pakistan, the outcome of these negotiations was a crossroad to a series of important interests. Khan has long opposed the US military presence in Afghanistan and is a strong advocator of negotiations to be held with the Taliban in order to reach an agreement for the sake of peace. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s military, which plays a leading role in the Afghan case, acknowledged that stabilizing the Taliban's political position in Afghanistan by forming a share in power in the peace agreement would likely align with Pakistan's "strategic depth" vision (i.e., the existence of a unified government in Afghanistan). There is no doubt that Islamabad's relations with the current Afghan government are cold and tense.
On the other hand, Pakistan has benefited from cooperating in peace talks, and is trying to erase its previous status referring to its connection with terrorism. Pakistan is also seriously concerned about the country's name remaining in the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in the past year. Such factors have led Pakistan to consider pushing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
However, Pakistan's expectations from the peace talks are not consistent with two main issues. The first being the hasty exit of the United States from Afghanistan. July 2021 timetable has been set for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to The Afghan Peace Agreement signed between the US and the Taliban in Doha. For Pakistan, this era evokes the period when a power vacuum was formed after the Soviet Red Army Forces withdrew from Afghanistan on February 15, 1989.
In an article written for The Washington Post, Imran Khan warned against setting an unrealistic timeline for the Afghan peace process. He wrote: “All those who have invested in the Afghan peace process should resist the temptation for setting unrealistic timelines”. His remarks appeared to indicate that it will be a time-consuming process to reach a consensus regarding the intra-Afghan negotiations. Although Pakistan supports the withdrawal of US troops, it also does not want to see an Islamic Emirate rising in Afghanistan, like it did in the early 1990s, which raised security threats for the country.
Pakistan seeks to form some sort of power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan in which the Taliban could participate sufficiently. With the US slowly retreating, Pakistan is trying to maintain its status as the main player in Afghanistan’s developments through the second phase of the Taliban-Kabul talks.
Kabul’s Hesitation Regarding Pakistan’s Positive/Negative Role Concerning Talks
Pakistan's view of the afghan peace process has raised fears and hopes for Kabul, which is the subject of Adullah Abdullah's visit. Kabul hopes Islamabad will use its power over Taliban as leverage to reduce and halt the group's operations and to accept a ceasefire in negotiating terms. There are many anti-peace and anti-agreement factions in the Taliban, and much of the recent insecurities could be the result of their efforts to thwart negotiations. However, the question remains whether Pakistan's approach to militias - especially the Haqqani Network - will fundamentally change or not?
In July, a US State Department report on terrorism indicates that the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban still have safe havens in Pakistan.
The reality is that as long as the military is the main engineer of Pakistan's foreign policy on Afghanistan, it is simply not possible to comment whether a change in the course of Islamabad's destabilizing interventions in Afghanistan will happen or not.
A matter that should be of concern is that the Pakistani military has significantly strengthened its dominance over Imran Khan's civilian government in the past two years. The announcement of Osama bin Laden as a martyr by the Prime Minister can be acknowledged in this regard.