Analysis | Failure Of Afghan Peace Process Would Be Costly For Pakistan
Washington is expected to resume dialogue with Afghan Taliban in Doha later this week, with Pakistan playing a crucial role in the resumption of talks between the two sides, reports in Pakistani media indicated.
The talks between Afghan Taliban and US officials were disrupted following cancellation of a meeting between President Trump and Taliban representatives three months ago.
A report in a Pakistani newspaper suggested that Pakistani officials played a central role in the resumption of talks as senior Pakistani officials have been trying to convince both sides to come back to the negotiating table.
The hopes for a positive outcome from US-Taliban talks were dashed three months back when US President Trump cancelled a meeting with Taliban representatives citing continued Taliban attacks on US soldiers in Afghanistan as a reason.
In the last three months, Pakistani officials continued to act as a channel for informal talks between US officials and Taliban representatives. Senior Pakistani political and military officials have been also discussing the possibility of resumption of talks with US officials in Washington and Islamabad.
The concerns about engagement of senior Pakistani military and civil officials as a mediator in the talks between US officials and Taliban representatives have been rising in Islamabad. Some of the experts have been citing the possibility of grave foreign policy costs being incurred by Pakistan in case of failure of US-Taliban talks.
US officials have been demanding Pakistan to convince the Taliban leadership to halt violent attacks against US soldiers and the Afghan government inside Afghanistan for the talks between US and Taliban to be successful. Pakistani officials have been conveying the message to Washington that they should not attach any pre-condition to the resumption of talks with the Taliban.
Some of the Pakistani experts are of the opinion that continued violence in Afghanistan would make Pakistan’s position very vulnerable. The continued and increased violence against US soldiers and Afghan government would reduce the chances of success of talks between Taliban and US officials. At the same time, it would also increase the chances of those hawkish lobbies in Washington to resume scathing criticism of Pakistani military and intelligence services for their links with Taliban, now that those links stand exposed before the whole world.
It is the Pakistani military and intelligence services, which have convinced Taliban leadership to start the negotiation process with Washington. Taliban attached the demand of withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan as a condition for peaceful resolution of the Afghan problem.
However, there are some in Washington who have expressed the opinion that the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan didn’t lead to a reduction in Taliban-led violence inside Afghanistan. This has led to a growth in the body of opinion at the US capital that complete withdrawal of troops would not be a wise decision.
All these scenarios are likely to put Pakistan in a very difficult strategic situation; Pakistani military doesn’t seem to be in favour of complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which could mean more pressure on Pakistani military to deal with local militant groups in tribal areas. Any type of civil war between Afghan Taliban and Afghan government security apparatus will also increase pressure on Pakistani security apparatus, as it would create a very volatile security environment in the region. Pakistan’s military is of the opinion that any scenario in which the Afghanistan situation leads towards destabilization would endanger the interests of Pakistan.
Ironically, despite such high stakes, the interests of Pakistani media and political circles towards what is happening in Afghanistan is minimal. Pakistani officialdom is also acting with secrecy as far as its engagement with the Afghan peace process is concerned, leaving little room for the media and political circles to remain in the know of things.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.