No turning back on Afghan peace

  • PM Abbasi’s Kabul visit on April 6 part of concerted efforts

The ball, not of the cannon munitions’ variation but metaphorical and pacifist, was first set rolling by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on February 28, when he made an unconditional offer of direct, formal peace talks to the Taliban, after achieving an internal consensus, and gaining backing of external stakeholders, the UN, NATO, EU, and presumably the US military. Although it looked suspiciously like the mainstreaming of some militant types in our own political system, it also revealed Kabul’s desperate yearning for a negotiated settlement and hopeless war-weariness at the never-ending conflict. The Taliban were to renounce force, in return for legal recognition in Afghan politics, the opportunity to achieve their goals by peaceful means, with consideration of their other concerns, namely foreign troops withdrawal, constitutional amendments and removal of leaders’ names from international sanction lists.

Pakistan, also unequivocally committed to seeing the back of the Afghan war, without old strategic baggage or hidden agenda, has provided a complementary role in supporting the Afghan peace initiative. High-level interactions between civilian and military leaderships have intensified under the Afghan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), focusing on comprehensive engagement for countering terrorism, intelligence sharing, refugee repatriation, military-economic-trade interaction, and reconciliation and connectivity. The results are satisfying, especially the welcome respite from harsh punitive measures of closing down the Torkham-Chaman borders, costing traders on both sides millions in losses and creating ill-will among ordinary people, addressing Afghan concerns about reasonable timeline for refugees’ return, and displaying sincerity and due regard for Afghan counterparts as equals. Hopefully, Pakistan foreign secretary’s Monday visit to Kabul, with a civilian-military mix (including the DGMO) and the PM’s expected visit, along with three ministers, including FM Khawaja Asif, on April 6 on the Afghan president’s invitation, will continue the good work for an honourable and lasting settlement. Fortunately, Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal is literally a live-wire activist for peace, after being a refugee in Pakistan from 1984-1991, while Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, is also an experienced (since 1987) foreign office hand, though reportedly (and astoundingly) innocent of any acquaintance with Pashto language.