While the Afghan endgame may be a difficult proposition for the Americans and their western allies to handle but for many Afghan leaders the solution is simple — they believe that the road to peace in Kabul is through Islamabad.
According to two influential Afghan political figures – one heading the main opposition alliance and the other representing the Afghan High Peace Council – Pakistan still controls the Taliban.
“The Americans can’t do it, it is only Pakistan which can persuade the Taliban and the Haqqanis to come to the negotiating table,” argued Ahmed Zia Massoud, who heads the main opposition alliance called the Afghan National Front (ANF).
He is also the younger brother of the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, the prominent leader of the Northern Alliance, which fought against both the former Soviet Union and the Taliban rule.
Talking exclusively to The Express Tribune at Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul, Massoud said efforts to reach out to the Taliban would remain futile unless Pakistan was part of the process.
His remarks indicate the widely-held perception in Kabul that the Taliban will make peace only if Pakistan asks them to do so. This view was also endorsed by a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council — a forum mandated to hold direct negotiations with the Taliban.
“Pakistan always plays politics, we know Taliban are still in their (Pakistan’s) control,” said Maulvi Qayamuddin Kashaf, who lived in Peshawar for 20 years during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Kashaf – who is the senior-most figure of the Peace Council after its chief Salahuddin Rabbani – met Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf along with other leaders in Karzai’s presidential palace to seek his government’s help in reaching out to top Taliban leaders.
Pakistan is considered crucial to push for a peaceful transition in post-2014 Afghanistan when most of the US-led international forces leave the country.
However, a senior security official quashed the impression that Islamabad holds any leverage on the Taliban.
“This is a misperception. We have our stated policy that we will support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process,” said the official insisting that the world must trust Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq said things had changed in recent years over “our role despite certain misperceptions”.
He told The Express Tribune that Islamabad was willing to bury the past and is looking forward to working with all Afghan groups.
“The very idea of shifting our embassy in an area populated by Uzbeks and Tajiks is to send out a clear message that we have no favourites in Afghanistan,” he claimed.
These efforts appear to make headway as many Northern Alliance leaders attended a ceremony when Prime Minister Ashraf inaugurated the new premises of Pakistan’s Embassy in Karte Parwan during his recent trip to Kabul.
Meanwhile, ANF leader Ahmed Zia Massoud also said they were ready to work with Pakistan. “We share a long border and no country can substitute the role of Pakistan,” he stated referring to apprehensions in Islamabad that the Afghan soil might be used by India against Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2012.