FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 1

Afghan conflict: No end in sight

Afghanistan is in the midst of a raging civil war. With the Ashraf Ghani government not willing to hold peace talks, the Taliban are carrying on with their offensive and capturing one provincial capital after the other. The situation is worsening with each passing day, with more bloodshed expected ahead.

Needless to say, a negotiated settlement is the only way out of the Afghan imbroglio. In this context, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi once again reiterated a few days ago that Pakistan would play its effective role in the Afghan peace process, and underlined that “peace in the neighbouring country is a shared responsibility and the international community cannot shy away from it.” “We won’t let some harsh statements block our desire to attain peace and stability,” he told a press conference in Islamabad recently.

Pakistan has also expressed its concern over forces within and outside Afghanistan, which don’t want to see peace and stability returning to the country. India is playing the role of a spoiler. In this backdrop, Pakistan has urged all parties to refrain from a useless blame game and said that it was open to all discussions that could lead to a path to peace in the war-torn country. Qureshi has also invited the Afghan foreign minister in writing to visit Islamabad to raise the issues that he has in mind so that “as neighbours, we can discuss and resolve them.”

Pakistan’s security is inextricably linked to stability in Afghanistan. In the past it has paid a heavy price in terms of lives lost and social and economic consequences. For over four decades, Pakistan has borne the fallout of war, foreign military interventions and conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistan has suffered close to 80,000 casualties during this period. More turmoil in Afghanistan would mean that the country will have to face a new array of internal and regional challenges flowing from across its western border. As the situation is unfolding, Pakistan will be faced with a serious threat to its stability, if civil war intensifies in Afghanistan and spills over into its border areas. A new influx of refugees will put an unbearable burden on Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan seeks to meet the emerging situation by fencing much of the border, sealing illegal crossing points, increasing border posts, strengthening the capacity of the Frontier Corps, enhancing technical surveillance and stationing regular troops there.

Some quarters find it easy to hold Pakistan responsible for the failures of the Kabul regime. But this is far from the truth. The real issue is the meltdown of the government in Kabul and the disarray of the Afghan National Defence Forces, which are unable to halt the advance of the Taliban. In the given circumstances, the only way out is to accelerate the peace process in Afghanistan. It is Pakistan’s oft-repeated stand that all energies should now be focused on finding an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement through a process that is wholly Afghan-led and Afghan owned.

It is agreed on all hands that it is for the Afghans to decide about their future. Pakistan has consistently been advocating that there is no military solution to the conflict and a “negotiated political situation” is the only way forward, something that the international community also supports.

From the beginning, Pakistan has played the role of a peacemaker. It is relevant to mention here that Pakistan played an instrumental role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table in 2019. Pakistan also facilitated the conclusion of the US-Taliban peace agreement in Doha in February 2020. Pakistan helped convene intra-Afghan negotiations in September 2020 and in December 2020, Pakistan contributed to the rules of procedure agreed between the parties. At the same time, Pakistan has joined the troika — US, Russia, China — to facilitate the intra-Afghan talks and the Doha process.

In its latest statement, the Foreign Office has said that Pakistan does not support a military solution to the Afghan conflict, adding that it would result in a lot of bloodshed. The statement added: “Our objectives in Afghanistan are in sync with what the US and the international community is saying.” It may be pointed out here that Pakistan pressed for an “orderly withdrawal” of US forces from  Afghanistan so that there is no vacuum created within Afghanistan, because a vacuum will be exploited by terrorist outfits active in various parts of the country.

Experts agree that it is not yet too late to douse the fires of conflict in Afghanistan, provided all the big powers as well as the neighbouring countries put in a determined effort to hammer out a peace settlement that accommodates all elements of Afghan society. While the Doha talks go on, it will be a good idea to make the warring groups agree on a ceasefire and station a UN peacekeeping force to enforce and monitor it.