Who’s behind the Afghan endgame

The latest push for peace appears to be decisive

Kamran Yousaf December 24, 2018
US President Donald Trump - PHOTO REUTERS

The world is still reeling from President Donald Trump’s shock move to withdraw a significant number of troops from Afghanistan. The decision comes within days of the latest round of Afghan peace talks in Abu Dhabi. The direct talks between Taliban representatives and senior American diplomats were brokered by Pakistan at the request of President Trump. The latest push for peace appears to be decisive given the fact that for the first time the Taliban sent their delegation representing both the political and military wings.

The three-day huddle hosted by the UAE in Abu Dhabi was attended by officials from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia also. Although little details were available on what transpired in those talks, US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who led the US side, described the engagement as productive. A statement issued by the UAE government gave more insight into the closed-door negotiations. “The three-day Afghan reconciliation conference fructified in tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned,” it said. According to the statement, another round of talks would be held in Abu Dhabi to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process.

This means that a tangible progress was made at the Abu Dhabi parleys. Some reports claimed the US pushed for a six-month ceasefire even though the Taliban insisted that the talks focused only on the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The fact that the Trump administration now has decided to pull at least half of its 14,000 troops from Afghanistan suggested that the US is inching closer to accepting the Taliban’s main demand. But many would perceive the Trump’s move as finally conceding defeat in Afghanistan since the Taliban have not yet offered any concession in return. Nevertheless, talks are still underway and the US would certainly not leave Afghanistan without a face saving. But will the US get the ‘honourable exit’? And if it will which are the players the US must look up to? The answer is straight forward, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. These were the only three countries which recognised the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and hence still enjoy considerable influence over the insurgents.

But according to the US, the main player remains Pakistan. The US administrations have tried everything ranging from offering financial assistance to imposing sanctions but nothing has worked till now. Since the arrival of Trump at White House, relationship between Pakistan and the US deteriorated to the extent where few expected a revival.

But then one letter apparently changed the course. On December 3, Prime Minister Imran Khan revealed that Trump wrote to him, seeking Pakistan’s help for a negotiated settlement. Within days of the letter, Pakistan arranged talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban. So how did Pakistan and the US come on the same page when not long ago Trump and Imran had a war of words on Twitter? Well, the US has changed tack and used its Arab allies—Saudi Arabia and the UAE—to win Pakistan’s support.

When Imran took charge in August, Pakistan was facing potential danger of defaulting on external liabilities. The PM rushed to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for help. Both countries agreed to bail out Imran’s government. Questions were asked under what conditions Saudi Arabia and the UAE extended a $9 billion package for Pakistan. Many thought Riyadh wanted Pakistan’s active role in Yemen. Very few had an idea that it was not Yemen but Saudi Arabia that persuaded Pakistan to help the US for decisive talks with the Taliban. Therefore, it is not a mere coincidence that on the heels of Afghan peace talks, the UAE has also lent a helping hand with a ‘generous support’ of $3 billion dollar for Pakistan.

oon as the EPI was paying special attention on such parents.


Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2018.

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