Afghan peace talks: Another test for Pakistan

In 1988, after Russia announced the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, Afghan warlords and heads of Jihadist groups (They all were Mujahideen then and were helping the US defeat USSR in Afghanistan) held a meeting in Peshawar. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, who were leading Arab fighters, floated the idea to cause serious damage to the withdrawing Russian troops but Dr Abdullah Azzam, also known as Father of Jihad, rejected the idea, as did the warlords. This allowed Russian forces manage to return almost peacefully.

Today, the US and NATO troops in Afghanistan face the same situation. President Trump’s letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan indicates that he also wants a rapid solution to Afghanistan’s issue and wants to withdraw his 13000 troops from Afghanistan before 2020 as he had said that he would not contest the next presidential elections with the US troops in Afghanistan. At the same time, he does not want to have the blemish of defeat from Afghanistan by simply withdrawing his troops, leaving the Afghan Government and people at the mercy of the Taliban.

Now, Afghan Taliban are applying the idea of OBL and Zawahiri and have managed to inflict maximum damage to the allied forces. They are very clear and believe that they are not fighting against Afghan Government but the US. Likewise, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s statements clearly advertises his belief that the Afghan forces are not combating Taliban but Pakistan.

In this perplexing situation, President Trump believes that Pakistan can play an important role in bringing the Taliban’s point of view to the negotiation table and can also guarantee the success of the talks. Perhaps, Pakistan can, but the real question is, should it? It is a big question, as Pakistan has always suffered serious backlash whenever it has participated in Afghanistan’s affairs.

In 1979, Pakistan, upon the aspirations of the US, fought a proxy war against the USSR in Afghanistan. The result is a radicalized society with dozens of militant groups, running sanctuaries of militants independently in Afghanistan and some parts of Pakistan. Another ‘blessing’ from the Afghan Jihad is the presence of 1.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

In 1993, Pakistan played a vital role in ending the armed conflict amongst various Afghan warlords, and helped create the Taliban under the auspices of the US. Subsequently, the Taliban conquered most of Afghanistan and established their rule in Kabul, and the ultimate sufferer was again Pakistan as the Taliban started strengthening Deobandi militant groups and seminaries in Pakistan that led to an extreme sectarian conflict in the country.

In 2001, Pakistan joined the War on Terror and paid the heaviest price. It lost nearly 70000 precious lives in bombings, ambushes and targeted killings during the next 17 years. The War on Terror snatched Benazir Bhutto, Bashir Bilour and several other leaders, generals, officers, jawans, professors, doctors, students, housewives and even toddlers. Pakistan lost people from every strata of society. The economic impact had the same magnitude as investors pulled or stopped investments in Pakistan and tourists removed Pakistan from their travel plans.

No doubt that a peaceful Afghanistan is essential for a stable Pakistan, however, peace with the Taliban is not simple for Pakistan either. Practically, Pakistan has zero control over the militant groups like Lashkar e Jhangvi, Jaish e Muhammad and several factions of Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that are supporting Afghan Taliban as well. These groups have to face the music for killing 70000 Pakistanis and targeting its institutions and military installations. Shall Pakistan stop Operation Radul Fassad against these terror networks on its soil for the success of peace deal in Afghanistan? Pakistan will have to weigh its own options before entering yet another test.

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