After previously being called off, a peace and reconciliation process hosted by Pakistan between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban has resumed.
After the Afghan government’s revelation in July of the death of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar, the peace dialogue between Afghan authorities and the Taliban—hosted by Pakistan—collapsed. Afghanistan had every reason to believe that Pakistan had been hiding the fate of the Taliban chief in order to mislead the Afghan authorities to negotiate in the name of a dead man. That was when Kabul decided to make Mullah Omar’s demise public. As per the disclosure, the Taliban supremo had died in a hospital deep inside Pakistan. The revelation was not only a blow to Pakistan and its security establishment, but also a humiliation on the global stage. In fact, it demonstrated that the time to gain leverage through proxies in peace negotiations is gone.
Soon after its formation in September 2014, the National Unity Government extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan and took several bold steps to normalize the historical tense relations between the two countries. Despite those efforts by the new administration, there were credible suspicions that the Taliban continued to receive support from their foreign benefactors to wage war against the people and government of Afghanistan. Moreover, the misgiving between the two neighbors culminated in the brief fall in October of Kunduz , a strategic province in northern Afghanistan that connects the country to Central Asia. On the other hand, the rising insecurity in different provinces initiated from the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan further damaged ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The acrimony and mistrust peaked to the point that President Ashraf Ghani in August publicly announced the withdrawal of political support to Pakistan for the reconciliation process and said that he would work with other stakeholders in the region in order to bring peace and stability to his country.
This development left Pakistan again in a state of anxiety over the resumption of the peace process with its neighboring nation. Further, the country also lost its credibility among the two observer states—United States and China—which were present in the first round of talks on July 8. As Afghanistan pulled back from the second round of negotiations by the end of same month, Pakistan urged both countries to pressure Kabul for the resumption of the process. Once again, those efforts remained fruitless due to spike in violence by the Taliban across Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent a high-powered delegation to Kabul in order to placate the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The delegates, who were comprised of Pashtun political leaders from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, tried to convince Ashraf Ghani to accept an invitation from the Prime Minister for a meeting in the sideline of currently ongoing Paris Climate Summit. On the other hand, the two leaders through the mediation of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who acted as a facilitator, met in a tripartite discussion in Paris. The troika agreed to restart the Afghan reconciliation process which was called off following the deterioration of relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
Now with the apparent normalization of the frosty relations between the two states, it looks that Pakistan is once again willing to host the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership who are on its soil. Conceivably, there might be several reasons behind this new Pak Afghan policy.
Firstly, it appears that Pakistan is losing its enduring influence over the fracturing Taliban movement. From Pakistan’s perspective, the Taliban, which has split into two major groups, are unable to turn the tide militarily. For this reason, there has to be a political solution to the Afghan crisis so that it can focus on its own domestic security problems. To this end, a settlement could be achieved with the faction of Mullah Mansour, successor to Omar, who has close ties with Pakistani establishment. Secondly, given the split among Taliban ranks, any resolution that could maintain a modicum of Pakistani influence over the group is in the best interest of the country towards normalization of relations and reaching a favorable political solution with Kabul. Finally, with perpetual instability in Afghanistan, the security situation in Pakistan will also remain fragile because of the intertwined connection among various militant groups active in both countries.
Taking these factors into consideration, there arises an important question: Is Pakistan sincerely committed in its new overtures to help Afghanistan attain a peaceful settlement with the Taliban? Or would it continue to be deceptive in order to gain more time for the reunification of the Taliban. In any event, only time will tell whether these gambits are helpful or detrimental. However, Kabul should have learned its lessons by now. Considering the lessons learnt through the past experiences, the Afghan government must be decisive and determined more than ever in its discussions with Pakistan and make sure that Islamabad does not take excessive advantage from these talks. This is because Pakistan wants to regain the lost trust given its long-standing support of the Taliban and demonstrate itself as a sincere neighbor. Contrary to that, Afghanistan believes that Islamabad and the military establishment in particular solely want to take advantage of the situation without taking any practical steps.
Therefore, the Afghan government must only embark on a peace process with a clear vision high on the agenda that entails international guarantee, binding not only Pakistan, but also other regional countries for genuine and result-oriented cooperation for its peace and reconciliation process.