US, Pakistan in touch to break Afghan logjam

Washington expects from Taliban to reduce the level of violence

Kamran Yousaf March 30, 2020
PHOTO: Anadolu Agency.

ISLAMABAD: As the Afghan peace efforts struggle to make headway due to internal wrangling coupled with the delay in the exchange of prisoners, the United States is likely to seek Pakistan's assistance to break the logjam.

While Islamabad has no role to play when it comes to the differences between President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah, it is believed to have been in constant touch with the US as far as persuading the Taliban to enter the intra-Afghan dialogue is concerned.

Last Friday, President Ghani announced a 21-member "inclusive team" for talks with the Taliban. However, insurgents were quick to reject the move, insisting the delegation does not represent all groups and factions of Afghanistan.

What has compounded the situation further was the spate of attacks in the last few days blamed by the Afghan government on the Taliban.

Although, there is no formal ceasefire agreed by all sides, the US expects from the Taliban to reduce the level of violence. It is not clear if the recent surge in attacks targeting the Afghan security forces would undermine the fragile peace efforts.

The US frustrated with the internal rift between Ghani and Abdullah, last week decided to review the relationship with Afghanistan while cutting $1 billion aid for the country.

The threat did work as Ghani was quick to name the negotiating team for intra-Afghan dialogue. But ahead of the much-anticipated talks, the Afghan government has to free 5,000 Taliban inmates in return for the insurgents releasing 1,000 Afghan security personnel.

The exchange of prisoners is set to begin from March 31 as the two sides continue technical negotiations to sort out issues. The prisoners swap would lead to intra-Afghan dialogue, something that is seen as crucial for the future of the war-torn country.

While Taliban rejected the Afghan negotiating team, US welcomed the Ghani administration's move, indicating that Washington was happy with the composition of 21-member team. This, according to observers, may compel the US to seek Pakistan's good offices for convincing the Taliban to dispel their reservations over the Afghan government formed negotiating team.

When asked, a foreign office official said Pakistan was closely following the developments in Afghanistan. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that making the peace process result-oriented was a shared responsibility of all stakeholders.

"Pakistan will continue to play its part," the official said without giving specific details. The official, nevertheless, added that the focus at the moment in Pakistan and the rest of the world was on how to deal with the novel coronavirus.

The Afghan Taliban and US signed a landmark deal on February 29, renewing hopes for a political end to the lingering war in Afghanistan.

The process, however, hit a roadblock soon after when President Ghani initially refused to abide by the clause in the deal regarding the prisoner exchange. Later, he agreed to free the prisoners but modalities were still being sorted out. Another official, closely involved in the process, said despite hiccups, the peace process was intact largely because the Trump administration was keen to portray the Afghan war as a success story before the next elections in the US later this year.

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