US President Donald Trump has written a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Pakistan’s help to end the decades-old conflict in Afghanistan. The letter requests Pakistan’s “full support for the US effort to advance the Afghan peace process,” but at the same time, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has warned that it is time for everyone to support the efforts of the UN, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all those who are trying to maintain peace in South Asia.
A request by US President Donald Trump and a warning by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis indicate Pakistan is being forced to play a role in Afghan peace, as designed by the US and India, even if it is not willing. It is also clear that the US wants to resolve the issue by giving India a greater role in the war-torn country in the future. Pakistan has supported all efforts for peace in Afghanistan in the past but is wary of Indian hegemonic designs in the region and it appears the US aims to put pressure on Pakistan to accept Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan for peace in Afghanistan. The initiative is bound to fail as India is not a stakeholder in the country. It is using Afghan soil for terrorist activities in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistan is a key stakeholder in peace in Afghanistan, but still its role is being limited to a facilitator of the efforts of the US and India.
According to CNN, a National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson described the letter as asking for “full support for the US-led Afghan peace process,” but the phrase “US-led” was later removed. Though no reason was given for it, yet it is obvious the phrase was removed to appease India and show to the world that only the US was not leading the peace efforts. However, Trump’s sudden request following a month of harsh language about Pakistan is shocking. Trump complained to the Fox News in November that Islamabad doesn’t do “a damn thing” for the US and charged that its government had helped Osama bin Laden hide. Later, he took to Twitter in an extended diatribe, assailing Pakistan for doing “nothing for us.” He also accused Pakistan of withholding information about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. “We paid Pakistan Billions of Dollars & they never told us he was living there. Fools!” he wrote in a tweet. “We no longer pay Pakistan the $Billions because they would take our money and do nothing for us, Bin Laden being a prime example, Afghanistan being another. They were just one of many countries that take from the United States without giving anything in return. That’s ENDING!,” he added.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan fired back, tweeting the “record needs to be put straight on Mr. Trump’s tirade against Pakistan.” “Our tribal areas were devastated & millions of people uprooted from their homes. The war drastically impacted lives of ordinary Pakistanis. Instead of making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures, the US should do a serious assessment of why, despite 140000 NATO troops plus 250,000 Afghan troops & reportedly $1 trillion spent on war in Afghanistan, the Taliban today are stronger than before,” he added. Pakistan’s foreign minister also summoned the US Charge d’Affaires over the spat. In early September, the US cut $300 million in military aid to Pakistan over its “reluctance to crack down on the Afghan Taliban in the territory.” It also suspended security assistance in January over similar allegations.
The NSC and State Department said that in Trump’s letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, which was disclosed by Pakistan, “the President recognizes that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory.” The letter also makes clear that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring US-Pakistan partnership. The letter also specifically calls for Pakistan’s cooperation with US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who travelled to Pakistan on his second trip to the region in as many months.
Pakistan has welcomed the letter, ignoring the words like “its ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory,” which means the US still thinks Pakistan is part of the problem rather than the solution. The US has subtly blamed Pakistan again for providing the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries on its territory, rather than accepting its failure to control the militants and check their cross-border movement. Without objecting to the letter’s content or understanding its underlying harsh tone, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs seemed receptive to the US president’s overture, saying in a statement, “Since Pakistan has always advocated a political settlement to end war in Afghanistan, the US decision is welcomed. Pakistan reiterates its commitment to play a facilitation role in good faith. Peace and stability in Afghanistan remains a shared responsibility.”
In a bid to make US intentions clear, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said it was time for everyone to support the efforts of the UN, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all those who were trying to maintain peace in South Asia. In a strong message to Pakistan, he threatened that Pakistan must take on a substantive role in peace talks with the Taliban if the war in neighbouring Afghanistan is to be ended. “We’re looking for every responsible nation to support peace in the sub-continent and across this war in Afghanistan that’s gone on now for 40 years. It’s time for everyone to get on board, support the United Nations; support Prime Minister Modi’s, (Afghan) President (Ashraf) Ghani and all those who are trying to maintain peace and make for a better world here,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.
It appears the latest US initiative for peace in Afghanistan will fail, as it ignores the ground realities. First, Pakistan will not accept Indian hegemonic designs in the region. Then, Pakistan cannot force the Afghan Taliban to come to the negation table, arranged by the US and India. The Taliban have many factions and affiliations. They are no longer under Pakistan’s influence. Iran and China are also serious stakeholders in Afghan peace. The US has also ignored them. It means peace in Afghanistan will remain a pipedream.