After nearly four decades of conflict, signs of peace in Afghanistan may be emerging. The seventh round of US-Taliban talks at Doha, followed by the intra-Afghan peace conference sponsored by Germany and Qatar in the first half of July offered some hope to that context.
The two-day intra-Afghan dialogue, attended by more than 50 delegates from Afghanistan – including women, former jihadi commanders, civil society and pro-government factions – and 17 representatives of the Taliban, was the first intra-Afghan talks not objected by Kabul, preceded by similar meetings in Moscow late last and early this year. In fact, while extending its support for all-Afghan summit, President Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi stated that face-to-face negotiations between the Kabul regime and the Taliban are now inevitable to end the prolonged crisis in the country.
In a surprising and unprecedented move, the Taliban also pledged – though still ambiguous – to reduce violence against civilian institutions in the post-peace Afghanistan. This move signaled as a security guarantee in case the US-Taliban deal materializes. According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Washington is hopeful that a peace agreement between the two warring parties will be reached before September 1, 2019.
At the same time, both American chief negotiator Khalilzad and Taliban’s spokesperson Sohail Shaheen have branded the seventh round of US-Taliban peace talks in Doha as the “most productive session” so far. Both sides have agreed on a few more points and the first draft of the deal is expected to be out in the coming days. At the same time, following the conclusion of the US-Taliban talks, Khalilzad’s visit to Beijing amidst China’s rising influence in the region beefs up hopes of regional powers coinciding their efforts for a speedy resolution.
In parallel, Pakistan and Afghanistan are witnessing a new opening for cordial relations as well, particularly since President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan in late June after a gap of nearly five years; his last visit to Pakistan being in November 2014 following his election in September. Ghani, who previously held a harsh stance towards Pakistan, has been displaying a softer view on Pakistan, probably because of the changing security dynamics in Afghanistan to the backdrop of Khalilzad-led peace talks with the Taliban.
Ghani’s delegation held comprehensive talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan, focusing on resetting of strained bilateral relations and promoting reconciliation with the Taliban – not without an intra-Afghan dialogue. During his visit, Ghani affirmed that Pakistan has a vital role to play in the Afghan peace process and both countries need to move from conflict to cooperation for tangible gains in bilateral relations.
Ghani attributed his recent change of heart to seeing an opening in Pak-Afghan relations due to Pakistan’s increased focus on its internal policies under the new government, particularly poverty reduction, which Ghani perceives Afghanistan could benefit from through mutual efforts. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s deep reexamination of policies which, in Ghani’s view, had not benefited Pakistan and Khan’s outlook to embrace regional cooperation and connectivity have particularly been appealing to Kabul, according to Ghani. “I see that intentions are changing and fundamentally, I see that a sovereign, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is being seen to compliment Pakistan,” he said. He also termed the recent state level dialogue as “constructive” and sought Pakistan’s support in consolidating reconciliatory efforts in his country which has been badly damaged by war for the last four decades.
In response, Islamabad has also reiterated its full support to Kabul, as Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood stated that “we [Pakistan] will encourage and facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue, which we [Pakistan] feel is essential for reconciliation, and we [Pakistan] will try and gain each other’s trust.” On another front, in their trust-building efforts, Pakistan has also agreed to keep the strategic Torkham border open 24/7 from August 2019 to ease cross-border mobility, while Ashraf Ghani also sought assurances from Pakistan to allow Afghan traders’ trucks to go straight to India through Wagah border. Though, no such agreement has been confirmed by Pakistani authorities yet.
At the same time, along with Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China are all working in unison to support and promote peace efforts. The developing situation certainly augurs well for the region as the Afghan quagmire has continued for too long. All stakeholders must now cash on this available window of opportunity; if nations do not cooperate and work together, it is the people who suffer.
The author Sitwat Waqar Bokhari is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), and Program Manager for CRSS’ sister organization – Afghan Studies Center. She tweets @SitwatWB.
This article was first published in Matrix Mag and is being reproduced under a special arrangement. Click here to go to the original.