Neighbourhood watch: Paving the way for better Pak-Afghan ties

President Ghani’s visit to Pakistan can help boost peace efforts and economic relations

Tahir Khan November 14, 2014

ISLAMABAD: Today’s meeting between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is being seen as the former’s most important engagement during his first state visit to Pakistan.

Ghani, who arrived in Islamabad on Friday, is likely to push for Kabul’s long-standing demand for Pakistan to mount pressure on the Taliban to join the peace process to avoid any instability as the US and its Nato allies pull out of Afghanistan in the next few weeks.

Pakistan’s role

Afghan officials are confident that the country’s own security forces are capable of facing any challenges posed by the Taliban in post-Nato Afghanistan. However, there are serious concerns about possible intensification of fighting after the foreign troops withdraw.

Both the US and Afghanistan believe Pakistan can play a key role in the peace process in view of what they consider its influence on the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami, the second largest resistance group in Afghanistan.

Afghan leaders hold the view that Pakistan has “influence on the Taliban and can continue its policy of persuasion” to encourage them to join the peace process. However, they say pressuring the Taliban will never work and the policy could prove to be counterproductive.

“Pakistan understands it cannot exert pressure on Taliban’s top leadership and pressure on low-level Taliban members will not work,” writer and analyst Nazar Mutmaeen told The Express Tribune via Skype from Kabul.

If anyone forces Taliban leaders to sit down with the Afghan government, the Taliban will intensify fighting in the battlefield and talks will not proceed, said Mutmaeen.

In his opinion, Pakistan along with Iran, India and Central Asian states could play a role in restoring peace in Afghanistan, but only after the Taliban settle their problems with the US.

The two major issues that the Taliban want resolved are the release of some Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay detention centre and the removal of their names from the UN sanctions list.

Reaching out

President Ghani has invited the Taliban to the negotiation table several times, but he is yet to unveil his dialogue and reconciliation process.

The Express Tribune learnt that Ghani’s uncle, Qayyum Kochai, had secretly met at least two Taliban leaders in Dubai with the help of the UN office in Kabul, but nothing came out of the meetings. According to sources, one Taliban leader was from Qatar while the other was based in Germany.

Nevertheless, Ghani has a chance to initiate formal talks with Hizb-e-Islami, led by former president Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. According to Ghairat Baheer, the chief of Hizb-e-Islami’s political commission, the organisation favours intra-Afghan dialogue and is ready for talks.

“We have never closed the doors to dialogue and are willing to enter into serious negotiations because peace is urgently needed in Afghanistan and the region. The concept of Afghan-led and Afghan-owned dialogue was in fact floated by Hizb-e-Islami,” Baheer told The Express Tribune on Friday.

He also recognised the “important role” of Pakistan in the Afghan peace process, saying it needs peace too because it has suffered a lot as well.

Taliban’s decision

There are some former Taliban leaders who believe President Ghani should first contact the Taliban directly before seeking help from other countries. “President Ghani will have to formally approach the Taliban leadership. If they reject his offer, then I think he should seek help from Pakistan, China or other stakeholders,” Akbar Agha, a former Taliban senior commander, told The Express Tribune.

However, the Taliban insist they are in no mood to hold talks with Ashraf Ghani and sources familiar with the Taliban political office in Qatar say the process was further complicated when Ghani signed the controversial bilateral security pact with the US.

“We have not yet taken any decision about holding talks with anyone. If it is necessary, neighbouring and regional countries will have a role in the dialogue,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Express Tribune.

Meanwhile, Afghan officials are confident President Ghani’s Pakistan visit would have a positive outcome because it will be different from the nearly 20 visits former president Hamid Karzai made to Pakistan. A sign of this is that the finance ministers of both countries agreed on Thursday to increase the volume of bilateral trade from the current $2.5 to $5 billion in the next two to three years.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2014.


Topak Khan | 8 years ago | Reply

“We have not yet taken any decision about holding talks with anyone. If it is necessary, neighbouring and regional countries will have a role in the dialogue,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Express Tribune.

Poor Taliban can't make their own decisions. We need to help them out. They are liability to our foreign policy.

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