The US and the Taliban Qatar Office are set to ink a peace deal on the 29th of February. The Americans will reduce the troop levels to 8,600. The Taliban will reduce violence. This is only the beginning. Future of the Afghan political dispensation is still vague and hazy. How things pan out in this war ravaged country is open to speculation.
The Taliban negotiation team is headed by Mullah Baradar and Mullah Stanikzai. Baradar was in Pakistani custody before he was released and became part of the negotiating team. The US points man is Zalmay Khalilzad, an American of Afghan descent. Khalilzad has occupied senior positions in the American government including being one time Ambassador to Afghanistan.
The Government in Kabul is not likely to be part of the peace deal ceremony. Ashraf Ghani has been re-elected after a contentious election that has been rejected by his rival Abdullah Abdullah. Abdullah had also rejected the results of the 2014 elections alleging massive irregularities. At that time the Americans had cobbled together an administration that included Abdullah because they wanted a functional administration in Kabul. Abdullah says now he’ll form a parallel government, weakening Ghani’s chances of having a firm control over the levers of power.
The Taliban do not trust the Kabul government and have on more than one occasion called them the stooges of the US. Taliban also know that it is their persistence that is about to bear fruits. In a rare oped published by the New York Times, Siraj Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban had clearly enunciated that their persistence in their pursuit is finally paying off despite shifting goal posts and flip flops by President Trump. The Taliban strategy had been very clear from the outset. They knew that they could bide their time till they could have peace on their own terms. They had confidently told the Americans that “You may have the watches but we have time.” For eighteen years they braved bombs and night was their guiding principle as they waited for another superpower to bite the dust in the proverbial graveyard of the empires.
Despite spoilers, who had been throwing the spanners in the works like leaking the news of the death of Mullah Omar to disrupt the Murree talks, Pakistan had done its best facilitate the peace talks. And despite American allegations of duplicity, Islamabad has time and again tried to prove the honesty of purpose by insisting that it should be an Afghan led and Afghan owned process. Even on this occasion there would be hostile countries such as India trying to upset the peace process. In any case a government in Kabul which includes the Taliban is not entirely in the interest of the Indians.
Long term peace in Afghanistan is naturally in the interest of Pakistan. The former tribal areas and even the settled areas near the international border have suffered enormously because of the terrorist activity emanating out of Afghanistan. A friendly government should be able to stop anti-Pakistan activities emanating from the Afghan territory. Of course security is of paramount importance for Pakistan. Currently time and resources are being spent on securing the international border by erecting a barbed wire fence all along the precipitous heights on the Hindu Kush range. In the future the border will have to made business friendly. It should not be a line to stop trade and commerce only to staunch terrorism and smuggling. The government should come up with a policy to open up the border at more points than the existing crossings to help peaceful movement of people and traders.
Traditionally, the governments in Kabul less the one under the Taliban have been unfriendly towards Pakistan. The foreign office should come up with a strategy to promote amicable relations without the earlier baggage. It’s time to bury the hatchet on both sides. All our policies and gestures should reassure the new Afghan government of our honest intent to help them in a positive manner.
Pakistan can play a prominent role in the post conflict rehabilitation and rebuilding of administrative structures. This can involve a number of players e.g. Pakistan Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies should be involved in training the Afghan military, para military and police forces. Earlier all such attempts had been stone walled on the behest of the Indians. Pakistan Administrative services can train the Afghan government officers. The Ministry of Health can help rebuild hospitals or establish new ones. HEC can connect Pakistani universities with the Afghan institutes of higher education to rebuild and resuscitate those damaged or destroyed by war.
Last but not least, a humane approach should be adopted in repatriating Afghan refugees. They should not be forced to go back against their will to a country that is trying to come to peace with itself. A practical plan to repatriate them should be prepared and nationality given to second or third generation law abiding Afghans, who can prove their loyalty to their adopted homeland.
In order to make the best of the impending peace deal, the Government of Pakistan must plan ahead.