Pakistan retreats from US – Taliban peace talks

Pakistan has withdrawn from US-Taliban scheduled peace talk but will continue to play a facilitating role. 

Background

A series of civil wars in 1996 saw Kabul fall into the hands of the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged to end the country's civil war and anarchy. By 1998, the Taliban controlled 90% of the country, imposing harsh fundamentalist laws. The human rights abuses that ensued turned it into an international pariah. Only three countries—Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAR—recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government.

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama Bin Laden. But the Taliban continues to remain a serious challenge for the Afghan Government in almost every province. It considers itself the rightful government of Afghanistan and remains a capable and confident insurgent force fighting for the withdrawal of foreign military forces from Afghanistan, the establishment of sharia law, and rewriting of the Afghan constitution.

In 2018, US President Trump cut off security assistance to Pakistan for harbouring Taliban militants. Following this, negotiations between the US and the Taliban led to the agreement that the US will withdraw troops while the Taliban would stop the operation of other jihadist groups in Afghanistan. 

Analysis

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday that Pakistan would not participate in the next round of peace talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban scheduled to be held in Qatar this month indicating a trust-deficit among the stakeholders.

Pakistan, which brokered the on-going peace talks, attended the previous sessions both in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Doha. “Pakistan will not be part of the next round of talks between the US and Taliban in Doha in April,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr. Muhammad Faisal said when asked whether Pakistan was going to attend the next round. “There will also be an Intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha on 14-15 April 2019, organised by Russia,” the spokesperson added. Although Pakistan will not be part of the coming talks, the spokesperson made it clear that Islamabad had supported the peace talks in the past and would continue playing its facilitating role for durable peace in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Khan had reportedly proposed the formation of an interim government in Afghanistan in order to break the stalemate in talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The statement invited a strong reaction from US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad as well as the Afghan government, which called back its ambassador from Islamabad in protest. Observers believe that the recent reaction both from Kabul and Washington to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement suggesting an interim set up in Afghanistan could be the reason behind Pakistan staying away from the peace talks.

“These remarks are against good neighbourly relations and international law. We always protest against such comments. Pakistan’s leadership has to respect Afghanistan as a sovereign and independent country. We hope they will change their mind,” said Sibghatullah Ahmadi, spokesperson at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Afghan vice presidential candidate and former head of intelligence Amrullah Saleh says Pakistan is using the Taliban to influence the situation in Afghanistan “through terrorism and violence” “The call of PM Khan for an interim set up is thus aimed to derail the Afghan constitutional order. Contrary to their rhetoric the Pakistani establishment sees its interest in chaos in Afghanistan.” “Imran Khan’s repeated interferences in Afghanistan’s internal affairs is a grave violation of the United Nations Charter. All nations must respect our sovereignty,” stressed Spozhmai Stanikzai, a former Afghan diplomat.

Meanwhile, Taliban’s Operation Fatha -- which means “victory” in Arabic -- will be conducted across Afghanistan with the aim of “eradicating occupation” and “cleansing our Muslim homeland from invasion and corruption”, Taliban said in a statement on April 12. “Our Jihadi obligation has not yet ended,” the Taliban said.

Assessment 

Our assessment is that Pakistan can benefit only from a stable Afghanistan. The Taliban are ardently opposed to negotiating with Kabul which heightens the possibility of the status quo continuing in Afghanistan. Despite Pakistan’s interventions in the previous discussions, Taliban officials preferred to speak directly to the US.  It can be noted that Pakistan has been involved in Afghanistan to protect its national security interests and will not relinquish. It will likely continue to view the Afghan Taliban as one of the country’s strategic assets. 

We feel that the perceived success of the Afghan Taliban would also create a sense of victory among Islamist groups operating in Pakistan, which is the reason why Pakistan has decided to withdraw from further talks. 

India Watch

India and the Ghani government continue to insist that there is no good Taliban and that the peace process should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. Russia and Iran, which used to be with India in opposing Taliban in the past, have moved on. The Russians now enjoy good relations with Pakistan and are already talking to the Taliban. 

 

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