Can Pakistan and Afghanistan put their differences aside and form an alliance?

Can Pakistan and Afghanistan put their differences aside and form an alliance?

 Can Pakistan and Afghanistan put their differences aside and form an alliance?

Pakistan and Afghanistan peace talks

Pakistan and Afghanistan have reaffirmed their commitment to closer ties and the Afghan peace process, as the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, continues his tour of his country’s eastern neighbour.

Speaking at an event in the capital, Islamabad, on Tuesday, Abdullah struck a markedly conciliatory tone, emphasising his country’s appreciation of Pakistan’s help in the peace process and the need for a new era of bilateral relations, which have often gone through periods of deep mistrust.

“After many troubling years, we now need to go beyond the usual stale rhetoric and shadowy conspiracy theories that have held us back,” said Abdullah.

“We cannot afford to pursue business as usual. We need fresh approaches and our people demand it of us.”

Afghanistan and Pakistan have routinely accused each other of allowing safe havens for armed groups that target each other’s territory, mainly the Afghan Taliban and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Abdullah is in Pakistan on a bridge-building mission meant to mend deep-rooted mistrust between the two countries. It was his first visit in 12 years.

Abdullah told the Institute of Strategic Studies in the federal capital of Islamabad that the two neighbors are on the threshold of a new relationship characterized by “mutual respect, sincere cooperation and shared prosperity.”

Pakistan has come under international criticism for its support for some militant groups and opposition to others. While Pakistan’s military and politicians say that policy has been relegated to the past, Islamabad’s neighbors remain suspicious.

“We do not want a terrorist footprint in our country or to allow any entity to pose a threat to any other nation,” Abdullah said Tuesday. “The current intra-Afghan talks offer the best hope to put the war behind and using patience, dialogue and compromise to agree to unite the country. “

Afghan peace talks

In February, the Afghan Taliban and the United States struck a deal allowing for the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for Afghan Taliban guarantees they would not harbour other militants.

Now, after years of waiting, the Afghans themselves have finally engaged in negotiations. They could result in the possible end of decades-long conflict in which tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and displaced.  Representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban movement met in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday amid hopes that the two sides will eventually agree to form a power-sharing government.

The meeting marked the first official contact between the insurgents and the Kabul officials in intra-Afghan peace talks, which comes six months after the United States signed a deal with the Taliban as part of an exit strategy for American troops.  “Remember this is the beginning of a long and fragile process. Nothing substantial has been discussed and the topics involved are very sensitive,” says Amina Khan, Middle East and Africa director at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) think-tank. “What needs to be appreciated and acknowledged is that this is the first time since 9/11 that the Taliban and the Afghan government have officially met in a bid to achieve peace.”

However, even during negotiations, violence has continued. Officials in Afghanistan said on Thursday the latest clashes between security forces and Taliban insurgents had killed around 60 combatants on both sides since Wednesday, even as delegates of the two adversaries negotiate peace.  The Taliban staged predawn assaults on security outposts in eastern Nangarhar province, killing at least 22 Afghan security personnel and injuring 15 others, a provincial government spokesman told VOA. Attaullah Khogyani said that Afghan forces killed nearly 30 assailants in the ensuing fighting. Separately, insurgents attacked a district center in the southern Uruzgan province, killing at least five members of the pro-government forces, officials said. The Taliban did not immediately comment on the latest violence.

The intra-Afghan negotiations under way in Qatar are aimed at seeking a cease-fire and a power-sharing deal to govern the country after the foreign troops exit. A spokesman for the Taliban has ruled out a cease-fire unless the two negotiating teams can discuss and agree “on the main cause of the war” dividing them. Mohammad Naeem told a pro-insurgent media outlet the two teams were still in the process of finalizing “rules of engagement” required to prepare an agenda for what are officially known as the intra-Afghan negotiations.

It remains a worrying sign that not only has violence continued in Afghanistan by the taliban during negotiations for peace, but also the negotiations themselves appear to be acting as a catalyst for increasing violence in Pakistan by the Pakistan Taliban. It is therefore clear that Pakistan must play an important role in the ongoing negotiations and its longing for peace on its afghan border and Pashtun regions will be important in accelerating talks.

Pakistan’s important role in the talks

Pakistan has already played a big part in helping negotiations reach the stage they have so far. America’s peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, visited Pakistan on Monday and conveyed Washington’s gratitude for the “important role” Islamabad has played in easing the start of reconciliation talks between warring Afghan parties, officials said.

The U.S Embassy in Islamabad said Khalilzad and his delegation met with Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, and some of the country’s other senior officials.

“Ambassador Khalilzad expressed appreciation on behalf of the United States, especially the important role that Prime Minister Imran Khan and General Bajwa played in facilitating the start of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations in Doha on Sept.12, and stressed the need for ongoing regional and international support for this historic opportunity for peace,” the embassy said in a statement. A military statement quoted Bajwa as saying that Pakistan was determined to further its mission of promoting regional peace, economic progress and prosperity.

Meanwhile, Pakistan are now claiming that India is trying to sabotage the peace talks. A senior Pakistani official and former diplomats accused India on Wednesday of playing the role of a “spoiler” to derail the peace process in Afghanistan.  Speaking at a panel discussion on ‘Decoding Indian Foreign Policy in the Regional and Global Context’ organized by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in Islamabad, the country’s Secretary for Information and Broadcasting, Akbar Hussain Durrani, said Pakistan has played a constructive role for Afghan peace despite Indian designs. “The world has recognized Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process while India has always tried to sabotage and derail the peace process in Afghanistan,” said Durrani, accusing his country’s arch-rival.

Despite New Delhi’s nefarious designs and conspiracies, Pakistan has succeeded in pushing the peace process forward in the war-torn country, he added.

If this is true then Pakistan has several obstacles in its way to reaching a definitive peace deal, but it will want to achieve a deal as soon as possible, while at the same time stopping the violent reaction from the Pakistan Taliban.

This appears to have also opened the door for improving ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Hazem Zahab

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