Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Prime Minister Imran Khan called for a “qualitative transformation” in relations while Ghani reaffirmed the need for “political alignment” between the two states. Ghani also took care to meet, apart from government officials and think tanks, the heads of Pakistan’s leading political parties to broad-base the support for his government in Kabul.
The Pakistan Prime Minister had stated in very recent past that the upcoming Afghan election should be conducted only under a caretaker interim government. That irritant irked Ghani’s government no end. Given Imran’s caustic jibe at Modi that small people are occupying big offices, nothing better was expected of the novice Prime Minister whom many regard as army-picked. Even that became the subject matter of debate in Pakistan parliament. A member tried to settle the argument saying he would henceforth call Imran Khan the hand-picked Prime Minister.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship had a chequered history. Though the Islamic republic of Pakistan has been steadfast in its support to fundamentalist Islamic militant outfit the Taliban, Kabul on the other hand has been working on a productive bilateral relationship and a peaceful future for the region.
After Nehru’s death Pakistan dictator Ayub Khan is reported to have said to American leadership that only Pakistan can offer leadership in Indian sub-continent. The terminology was not a dirty word till then.
The development of Islamic bomb buoyed Pakistan to consider itself as the centre of geopolitics not only of the region but the whole world. Self-proclaimed leadership of Islamic ummah further heightened the bloated view of self. That explains the frayed relations between Islamabad and Kabul, particularly in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
On Afghanistan, Pakistan abrogates to itself a central role without even truly perceiving the constraints of geopolitics and geography. Promoting Islamism across Afghanistan and undermining India’s centuries-old common cultural ties there has been Pakistan’s top agenda in Kabul, not the negotiated end to the long-drawn war in Afghanistan, as is being projected. Islamabad is desperate to remain glued to the bilateral agenda.
The US-Taliban talks are set to resume in Doha but for the peace process to move forward, the Pakistan establishment and Afghan Taliban must shed their rigidity. The Taliban needs to recognise Kabul government, stop violence and adhere to ceasefire.
It must talk to the Americans and open direct channels with Kabul government. Ghani visit should pave the way for a rapprochement between reluctant Taliban and Kabul dispensation. Rather than playing the spoiler, Pakistan should use its influences for motivating Taliban to have simultaneous negotiations with the USA and Kabul regime.
The Taliban has morphed to a snake in the yard which no one can tame. They are presenting a different set of demands to every interlocutor. Any deal that does not involve a ceasefire or surrender of arms by the different militant factions in Afghanistan could at best be a Band-Aid solution that does not address the real problem of violence.
Those claiming to represent Afghans must prove their claims in elections conducted subsequent to setting up of an interim government.
Peace is essential for the progress of the whole region. Surprisingly, while the USA is keen to accelerate Afghan peace process and despatching delegations to achieve results through talks, all other stake holders— the Taliban and Pakistan in particular—are solely focused on their respective self-interests.
Afghans need to hammer out the finer details of a negotiated final settlement that is acceptable to all stakeholders in their country. Instability in Afghanistan impacts, in addition to the whole region, Pakistan also.