Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan recently met with Zalmay Khalilzad – the US special representative for the Afghanistan peace process, and as per statements from Khan’s office the prime minister had assured the latter that Pakistan had “always wanted a peaceful end to the Afghan conflict” and that “reconciliation is the only solution.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has also acknowledged that peace in Afghanistan was a “shared responsibility” of regional countries and Pakistan could not bring peace alone while speaking in the legislature. He also spoke about US president Donald Trump’s letter to Prime Minister Khan asking Pakistan to assist and facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan. However, Qureshi said Pakistan was already doing its part.
To ensure Pakistani support in the Afghan peace process, the US has reportedly attempted to allay Pakistani concerns as to mounting sanctions by making it clear that although Pakistan remains on the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list, there would be no additional sanctions other than those already placed on Pakistan owing to “national interest”. https://timesofislamabad.com/12-Dec-2018/us-rejects-any-additional-sanctions-against-pakistan-due-national-interest-with-islamabad-report.
Relations between Washington and Islamabad kept on waxing and waning and were strained particularly after the Trump administration began to tighten its screws over accusations that Pakistan supports insurgent groups in Afghanistan, a charge that Islamabad denies. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/afghan-taliban-meet-us-peace-efforts-uae-1.4949363
The Trump administration’s move to end the uncertain but costly American military entanglement in Afghanistan and push for political negotiations has forced a change in Washington’s approach. President Trump had earlier accused Pakistan of “not doing a damn thing” to help the US notwithstanding massive American aid. Pakistan has also positively responded to the American changed gesture hard-pressed by American sanctions and conditions of economic crisis as well.
It is fresh in memory how Pakistani Prime Minister Khan responded to President Trump’s charges. Khan retorted: “record needs to be put straight on Mr. Trump’s tirade against Pakistan”. He argued that Pakistan had suffered more than 75,000 casualties in the fight against terrorism and the US should “stop making Pakistan a scapegoat” for its failure to win the war in Afghanistan. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/afghan-peace-talks-may-hinge-on-tentative-us-pakistan-thaw/2018/12/05/0d8f4818-f893-11e8-8c9a-860ce2a8148f_story.html?utm_term=.534dddbbac2b
On the other side, Afghanistan and Pakistan are making efforts at normalizing their relations. The High Peace Council (HPC) – a body on Afghan peace is expecting Islamabad to take practical steps toward the Afghan peace process following President Ashraf Ghani’s Special Envoy, Umer Daudzai’s visit to Islamabad. HPC believes Pakistan by seriously supporting the Afghan peace process could remove the distrust between Kabul and Islamabad as well.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa has discussed regional security situation and Afghanistan peace process with Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan Shukrullah Atif Mashal, during a meeting in Rawalpindi. It is worth mentioning that Kabul very often blamed Islamabad on the charges of sabotaging Afghan peace process and accused it of interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs although Pakistan kept on rebuffing the charges.
For instance, the former minister of interior Mohammad Omar Daudzai, as well as a member of The Council For The Protection and Stability of Afghanistan (council made of former Afghan Jihadi figures), accused Pakistan of meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and exploiting the peace process in a bid to pursue its strategic objectives. Not much time before, following Kabul ambulance bombing, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, National Directorate of Security (NDS) Masoom Stanekzai stated that these actions were deadly attempts by the Pakistani backers of the insurgency to show that they could not be sidelined.
However, indicating a positive gesture toward the peace process, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Qureshi has expressed Islamabad’s willingness to see the Taliban give up their refusal to talk to the Afghan government and participate in the political settlement of the long-draw Afghan conflict. https://www.tolonews.com/index.php/afghanistan/kabul-hope-islamabad-takes-practical-steps-over-afghan-peace
There were indications as well that representatives from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the U.A.E. would also take part in the peace talks and this was to follow at least two meetings between Taliban officials and US special envoy Khalilzad in Qatar.
However, everything is not moving well pertaining to the Afghan peace process. Recently, Republican Congressman Andy Briggs has introduced legislation – the resolution 73 in the American in Congress (in the House of Representatives) to terminate the designation of Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally.
Meanwhile, the resolution has been sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for necessary action and for future re-designation, the President would need to certify to the American legislature that Islamabad continues to conduct military operations that are contributing to significantly disrupting the safe haven and freedom of movement of the Haqqani Network in that country. The President will certify that Pakistani government was demonstrating its commitment to prevent the Haqqani Network from using any Pakistani territory as a safe haven as well as actively coordinating with the Afghan government to restrict the movement of militants, such as the Haqqani Network, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/bill-in-us-congress-to-end-pakistan-s-designation-as-a-major-non-nato-ally-119011200098_1.html
Meanwhile, showing distrust of Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has appointed hard-line opponents of Pakistan to two top security posts which is believed to complicate US efforts at reviving peace talks with the Taliban ahead of withdrawal of a half of American troops (7000 troops) during the summer. It is noteworthy that Ghani announced recently that Amrullah Saleh will be the next interior minister and Asadullah Khaleed will be defense minister. Both are former intelligence chiefs who have blamed Pakistan for the Taliban’s resurgence in recent years and have even called for it to be declared a state sponsor of terror. https://www.voanews.com/a/afghan-president-appoints-pakistan-critics-to-2-top-posts/4712732.html
The US continues to depend on Pakistan’s ground and air supply routes to supply goods to American forces in Afghanistan despite its apparent offensive gesture towards Pakistan. Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi indicating his government’s continued cooperation with the US efforts in Afghanistan despite sanctions has said that deterioration in Islamabad’s relations with Washington had not led to blocking of the ground and air routes through Pakistan for ferrying supplies to the US-led international forces stationed in landlocked Afghanistan.
But, any further deterioration in US-Pak relations may lead to blocking of these channels. A few months back, there were reports that Pakistani authorities were considering the option of blocking supplies of US troops deployed in Afghanistan through its territory amid the diplomatic tensions between Islamabad and Washington. https://sputniknews.com/asia/201801081060584358-pakistan-us-afghanistan/
Pakistan has rebuffed the oft-repeated charges of the US that Pakistan has not been serious in taking on terrorism. For instance, Qureshi said Pakistani security forces have dismantled “the safe havens” and anti-Pakistan “safe havens” that exist today in Afghanistan “under your [U.S] watch” are a concern for Islamabad. https://www.voanews.com/a/pakistan-ties-with-us-depend-on-improved-afghan-situation/4599154.html. Therefore, divergences in looking at the problems in Afghanistan may have negative impacts on the peace process.
Pakistan can influence peace conditions in Afghanistan as it allegedly shares close contacts with the Afghan Taliban and has the ability to multiply its support for the radical groups and disrupt the peace process.
The US strategy of containing Iran and Russia has prevented Washington from working on alternative routes other than supply routes made available by Pakistan. Successive US administrations have also been careful in avoiding putting too much pressure on Pakistan as that could result in instabilities and create possibilities of its nuclear weapons falling into the hands of militants. Therefore, the Trump administration has so far been unable to deal with Islamabad as a way that could help it achieve breakthroughs in Afghan peace efforts.
Pakistan perceived India’s non-military and developmental role in Afghanistan as New Delhi’s strategic encirclement policy and viewed India’s enhanced diplomatic presence in the country with suspicion and alleged it with involvement in promoting anti-Pakistani elements. Thus, the Trump administration will have difficulty in managing such threat perceptions which may be more imaginary than real and New Delhi cannot be denied a role given it has important stakes involved in Afghanistan too.
More importantly, Russia and Iran have reportedly maintained contacts with the Afghan Taliban to safeguard and promote their interests in Afghanistan. Washington cannot hope to move ahead with the peace process only by courting Islamabad’s support while simultaneously pursuing containment strategies toward Moscow and Tehran.
Further, the US will also have difficulty in making the peace process Afghan-led as amid diplomatic efforts to move ahead in the peace efforts, the Taliban have been refusing to deal directly with the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which it considers an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime. The caveats from the Taliban (now the most dominant actor within Afghanistan) that the foreign troops must withdraw first to pave way for peace and negotiations would place Washington in yet another complicated situation which Pakistan alone could not possibly handle without cooperation from other regional powers such as Iran and Russia.