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PM’s US Visit Was Strictly Focused On Pakistan’s Role As Facilitator Of Afghan Peace Talks

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As it becomes clear that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Washington visit was strictly focused on Pakistan’s role as a facilitator of Afghan peace talks, the US administration wants Pakistan’s military establishment and the civil government to convince the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table with Afghan government, Pakistani officials said.

The Afghan Taliban have been persistently rejecting any possibility of direct talks with the President Ashraf Ghani’s government. However, it became clear in the two-track talks in Washington that the US administration wants Pakistan to deliver Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

The Afghan Taliban have been holding talks with the US officials for the past one year, while at the same time refusing to have dialogue with the US-backed government in Kabul.

Their spokesman has repeatedly told media that there would be an intra-Afghan dialogue in which the representative of Afghan government could participate in personal capacity once the ongoing talks with the US officials concluded.

The American officials in Washington also conveyed the US administration’s desire to their Pakistani counterparts that they should play a role in convincing the Afghan Taliban to halt violent operations against Afghan government.

Pak-US talks in Washington were held at two levels — Prime Minister Imran Khan discussed Afghan peace process with US President Trump and US Secretary of State Pompeo, whereas COAS Gen Bajwa and ISI DG Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed held talks with the US military leaders and intelligence services chiefs.

Officials said that the issue of Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace process remained the focus of discussions in the two sets of talks.

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This, however, is not for the first time that the US Administration is asking Pakistan’s military leadership to facilitate their talks with Afghan Taliban.

In November 2011, a senior visiting US official disclosed to the then Pakistan’s Army chief Ashfaq Kiyani the secret that their diplomats were holding secret talks with Taliban in Germany. The disclosure came with the request that Pakistani intelligence should give protection to the America’s Taliban interlocutors. Gen Kiyani refused to get surprised by the information. Instead he informed the visiting US official that he knew most of the things about US-Taliban contacts through his own sources.

However, he surprised by the demand that the Pakistani intelligence should protect the head of Taliban delegation and his team who were holding talks with Americans and were in Pakistan.

The American message to the Pakistani government and military leaders was conveyed to Gen Kiyani in the last months of 2011. The then head of Taliban delegation Tayyab Agha, a close aide of Mullah Omar, had served in Afghan embassy in Islamabad while Taliban were still ruling Afghanistan. Agha, who was associated with Taliban foreign ministry, had travelled to Germany to hold talks with American officials on Pakistani passport.

The American request to Pakistani military for providing protection to Agha and two others stemmed from the fear that al Qaeda or possibly some extremist elements within the Taliban could attempt to eliminate the interlocutors after the secret talks between American officials and Taliban became an open secret in the early months of 2012.

The talks organised by Pakistan between Taliban and Afghan government didn’t succeed primarily because of Taliban continued to engage in violence inside Afghan government. Officials in Islamabad’s security circles, however, deny that Pakistan has unqualified leverage over the Taliban. “Just because we have admitted that we have lines of communication open with the Taliban does not mean that we can force them to make a particular decision,” said a government official.

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In 2015, the Afghan government wanted to hold talks with Taliban with an aim to prevent them from launching ‘spring offensive’, but very opposite of this expectation happened in Afghanistan. As expected, this increase in violence was followed by tough statements by Afghan officials that they would deal with Taliban with an iron hand.

On the other hand, Pakistani side took a totally different position. The then advisor to the prime minster on foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz at that time said, “The threat of the use of military action against irreconcilables (Taliban) cannot precede the offer of talks to all the groups and their response to such an offer.”

He was telling the Afghan side that they should not attach any pre-conditions to talks and they should create conducive atmosphere for talks and that they should not set any deadline. As a result the talks never took off.

 

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.

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