Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned against hasty withdrawal of foreign powers from Afghanistan and also cautioned that regional spoilers could use instability in the worn-torn country for their own vested interests.
“All those who have invested in the Afghan peace process should resist the temptation for setting unrealistic timelines. A hasty international withdrawal from Afghanistan would be unwise,” PM Imran wrote in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Saturday.
“We should also guard against regional spoilers who are not invested in peace and see instability in Afghanistan as advantageous for their own geopolitical ends,” he added.
The premier said the rare moment of hope for Afghanistan and the entire region has arrived, recalling that on Sept 12, delegations from the Afghan government and the Taliban finally held talks in Doha to bring the war in Afghanistan to an end.
With the exception of the resilient Afghans themselves, no people have paid a higher price for the conflict in Afghanistan than the people of Pakistan, the premier maintained in the article.
“Through decades of conflict, Pakistan has dealt with the responsibility of taking care of more than four million Afghan refugees. Guns and drugs have also flowed into our country. The wars have disrupted our economic trajectory and radicalised fringes of our own society. The Pakistan I had known growing up in the 1960s and 1970s changed in some deeply unsettling ways.”
The prime minister, in the op-ed piece, said the experience taught us two important lessons: “First, that we were too closely intertwined with Afghanistan by geography, culture and kinship for events in that country not to cast a shadow on Pakistan. We realised Pakistan will not know real peace until our Afghan brothers and sisters are at peace.”
The world also learned that peace and political stability in Afghanistan could not be imposed from the outside through the use of force, he said.
“Only an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process, which recognises Afghanistan’s political realities and diversity, could produce a lasting peace.”
PM Imran recalled that in 2018 Pakistan had assured the United States of its all-out support when President Donald Trump had sought Islamabad’s assistance to achieve a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan.
“We had no hesitation in assuring the president that Pakistan would make every effort to facilitate such an outcome — and we did.”
“Thus began arduous rounds of talks between the United States and the Taliban, which culminated in the February US-Taliban peace agreement. This agreement, in turn, has laid the groundwork for talks between the Afghan leadership and the Taliban.”
The prime minister said despite hurdles, the peace talks remained successful due to the courage and flexibility displayed by all sides.
The United States and its allies facilitated the prisoner exchange between Kabul and the Taliban. The government of Afghanistan and the Taliban responded to the Afghan people’s yearning for peace, he wrote in the international publication.
The intra-Afghan negotiations are likely to be even more difficult, requiring patience and compromise from all sides, said the premier, adding that progress could be slow and painstaking and might face occasional deadlock.
“At such times, we would do well to remember that a bloodless deadlock on the negotiating table is infinitely better than a bloody stalemate on the battlefield.”
Pakistan will continue to support the Afghan people in their quest for a unified, independent and sovereign Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and its neighbours, he reiterated.
The PM said peace negotiations should not be conducted under coercion and urged all parties to reduce violence.
“Just as the Afghan government has recognised the Taliban as a political reality, it is hoped that the Taliban would recognise the progress Afghanistan has made,” the premier shared his optimism.
“Like the United States, Pakistan does not want to see Afghanistan become a sanctuary for international terrorism ever again. Since 9/11, more than 80,000 Pakistani security personnel and civilians have laid down their lives in perhaps the largest and most successful fight against terrorism.”
PM Imran said Pakistan continued to be the target of attacks launched by externally enabled terrorist groups based in Afghanistan and added that these terrorist groups pose a clear and present danger to global peace.
He expressed hope that Afghan government will take measures to control ungoverned spaces inside its territory from where terrorist groups are able to plan and carry out attacks against the Afghan people, the international coalition forces stationed in Afghanistan, and other countries in the region, including Pakistan.
“Like the United States, we do not want the blood and treasure we have shed in the war against terrorism to be in vain. It is also time to start planning for the “day after” — how can the world help a postwar Afghanistan transition to sustainable peace?,” he asked the international community.
“How do we create conditions that will enable the millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, and other countries, to return to their homeland with dignity and honour?”
PM Imran said his vision prioritised development and prosperity for Pakistan as well as for the entire region through connectivity and economic diplomacy.
“Our recent investments in key economic connectivity projects can be harnessed to complement efforts for regional integration between South and Central Asia. Our initial discussions with the US International Development Finance Corporation on these issues have been encouraging. It is heartening that the United States and Pakistan are of one mind on the importance of a “peace dividend” for ensuring a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.”
For Pakistan, the premier said regional peace and stability remained key to realising the collective aspirations of our people for a better future. “We are committed to multilateral collaboration to achieve this.”
The first step toward that peace has been taken in Doha, said PM Imran warning that not seeing through the Afghanistan peace process or abandoning it for any reason would be a great travesty.