Why Pakistan’s Vital Role for Completion of the US-Taliban Agreement?
By Sajjad Shaukat
In the past, the US-led Western countries which spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan held a series of international conferences in order to bring stability and peace in that war-torn country with the aim of starting withdrawal of NATO forces in 2013, which had to be completed in 2014. They had agreed that without Islamabad’s help, stability cannot be achieved there. Hence, these countries requested Pakistan to play its role for initiation of peace process in Afghanistan.
At the same time when the US-led NATO forces felt that they are failing in coping with the stiff resistance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, they and especially America started accusing Pak Army and country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of supporting the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. Their main purpose was to pacify their peoples regarding their defeatism in that country. Despite America’s false allegations, Islamabad continued reconciliation process between the US and Taliban, emphasizing that there is no military solution of the issue which needs political solution.
Taking cognizance of Pakistan’s key role, since the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad started his efforts to convince the Taliban to have direct talks with the US, Pakistan had been playing a major role, as Islamabad succeeded in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating Table. Zalmay Khalilzad who, repeatedly, visited Pakistan and met country’s civil and military leadership admired Pakistan’s role in the US-Taliban peace dialogue.
It was because of Pakistan’s major role that in Doha-the capital of Qatar on February 29, this year, the US and the Taliban signed the historical agreement for bringing peace to Afghanistan. The deal was signed by Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a witness.
Afterwards, Pompeo said: “To Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan, we thank you for your efforts in helping reach these historic agreements and make clear our expectation that you will continue to do your part to promote a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan so that the country and region can reap the benefits of lasting peace.”
In the agreement, it is committed that within the first 135 days of the deal, the US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 from the current 13,000, working with its other NATO allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces over that period. Implementing the agreement, America has started withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.
The deal also provides for a prisoner swap. Some 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners would be exchanged by 10 March , when talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are due to start.
In his speech, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar also acknowledged Islamabad’s role in the peace deal and thanked Pakistan for “its efforts, work and assistance.”
Speaking about the deal, US President Donald Trump, who had promised to end the Afghan conflict, said on March 1, 2020 that it was “time to bring our people back home…5,000 US troops would leave Afghanistan by May and he would meet Taliban leaders in the near future.”
But, it is regrettable that less than 24 hours after the US-Taliban agreement, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had rejected prisoner swap with Taliban.
In this regard, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated that the Taliban would not hold peace talks with the Afghan government, if 5,000 Taliban prisoners were not released.
Meanwhile, the political crisis in Afghanistan worsened on March 9, 2020, as Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah took separate oaths as country’s president in connection with the September elections, as the latter did not recognize the election-results.
In the end of March, this year, US Secretary of State Pompeo’s visit to Afghanistan failed to bring the two main rival factions led by the Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah together, leading to the US decision to cut $1 billion aid. Pompeo elaborated that the inability of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to resolve their differences had “harmed US-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonours those Afghan, Americans, and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country.”
In this connection, in his tweeter statement, Zalmay Khalilzad on April 26, 2020 called on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to set their differences aside to combat the coronavirus pandemic and advance a stalled peace agreement signed with the Taliban— should “put the interest of the country ahead of their own”.
However, Ghani released 550 detainees based on age, vulnerability to the virus, and time served. The Taliban have freed 60 prisoners.
In a recent statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed stated that the Taliban group was living up to its side of the agreement, and that it was willing to negotiate a countrywide cease-fire, including intra-Afghan talks, which have to begin within 10 days of the February 29 deal, but are still on hold because of the political bickering in Kabul.
Besides, the Taliban have carried out 2,804 attacks since the agreement was signed. Nevertheless, Taliban have not attacked the US or NATO troops.
Earlier, in his meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad and Resolute Support Mission Commander General Austin Scott Miller at Islamabad, Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa reaffirmed country’s support for US efforts and renewed commitment to advance a political settlement to the Afghan conflict.
Meanwhile, Taliban stated that Afghan president is delaying the exchange of prisoners “under one pretext or another.”
In fact, Indian and Afghan rulers who are feeling the pinch of the US-Taliban peace agreement are trying to sabotage it for their collective interests at the cost of Afghan people, Pakistan and regional stability.
New Delhi which has already invested billions of dollars in Afghanistan, also signed a wide-ranging strategic agreement with that country on October 5, 2011. And, the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai had also signed another agreement with India to obtain Indian arms and weapons. Thus, India has strengthened its grip in Afghanistan.
While, Indian RAW which is in connivance with Israeli Mossad and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) has well-established its network in Afghanistan and has been fully assisting cross-border incursions and terror-activities in various regions of Pakistan through Baloch separatist elements and anti-Pakistan groups like Jundullah and Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including their affiliated outfits.
It is noteworthy that Pakistan’s Armed Forces and particularly Army have successfully broken the backbone of the foreign-backed terrorists by the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, while ISI has broken the network of these terrorist groups by capturing several militants and thwarting a number of terror attempts. So, peace was restored in various regions of the country, especially in Balaochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces.
But, in the recent past, some terror-attacks in Pakistan and Balochistan show that New Delhi is trying to damage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Indian desperation in Afghanistan was increasing in the backdrop of growing engagements of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and US.
It is misfortune that on direction of New Delhi, in the recent past, President Ghani accused Islamabad for terror attacks in Afghanistan.
In this respect, New Delhi and Kabul which want to prolong the stay of the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan are exploiting the dual policy of America against Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran.
Afghan rulers think that in case, the US-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, their regime will fall like a house of cards owing to the assaults of the Taliban. Even, India would not be in a position to maintain its network in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban. So, both the countries want NATO’s permanent entanglement in the Afghan conflict.
Notably, regarding Indian activities in Afghanistan the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal had pointed out: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.”
And the US-Taliban peace deal is likely to render Indian proxy support against Pakistan ineffective. It will suit Indian designs, if Afghanistan does not move towards peace and keeps simmering. So, Afghan people need to realize that Indian and Afghan governments which have sponsored trained and propagated all anti-Afghanistan and anti-Pakistan elements to destabilize both Afghanistan and Pakistan are attempting to thwart the US-Taliban peace agreement.
It is mentionable that after the end of the Cold War, America left both Pakistan and Afghanistan to face the fallout of the Afghan war 1.
After the 9/11 tragedy, President George W. Bush insisted upon Islamabad to join the US global war on terror. Pakistan was also granted the status of non-NATO ally by America due to the early successes, achieved by Pakistan Army and ISI against the Al-Qaeda militants.
Nonetheless, Washington must be aware of the coming negative developments, which could create misunderstanding between America and the Taliban, as RAW and NDS can use some terror outfits like TTP for targeting the military installations of the US and its allies to shift the blame game towards those Taliban whose leader has signed the peace deal. New Delhi and Kabul could also accuse Islamabad for cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan like the past approach, because the US and Pakistan have been promoting cordial relations owing to President Trump’s positive approach towards the latter.
US should also note that Pakistan shares common geographical, historical, religious and cultural bonds with Afghanistan. There is a co-relationship of stability and peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is also essential for American global and regional interests. Therefore, Pakistan is playing a vital role for completion of the US-Taliban agreement.
Now, coronavirus which has affected almost every country has also enveloped Afghanistan which has reported more than 2,894 cases infected by this deadly virus and more than 90 deaths. In America, more than 2.1 million cases have been recorded with more than 67,686 deaths. By availing this golden opportunity, Afghan rulers have delayed the implementation of the US-Taliban agreement and Washington is also not taking much interest in this respect. So, completion of the agreement could be delayed, which may create more complications.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations