Trump wants Pakistan in Afghan Talks

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he has received a letter from President Trump asking for his government’s help and cooperation in advancing peace talks with the Afghan Taliban insurgents.

Background

The Taliban are a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan currently waging war (an insurgency, or jihad) within that country. Since 2016, the Taliban's leader is Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.

From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban held power over roughly three-quarters of Afghanistan and enforced there a strict interpretation of Sharia or Islamic law. The Taliban emerged in 1994 as one of the prominent factions in the Afghan Civil War and largely consisted of students (Talib) from the Pashtun areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan who had been educated in traditional Islamic schools and fought during the Soviet-Afghan War.

The Taliban have been condemned internationally for the harsh enforcement of their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, which has resulted in the brutal treatment of many Afghans, especially women. During their rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban and their allies committed massacres against Afghan civilians, denied UN food supplies to 160,000 starving civilians and conducted a policy of scorched earth, burning vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of homes.

Analysis

US President Donald Trump is reported to have sent Pakistani PM Imran Khan a letter requesting Islamabad’s assistance in the upcoming Afghan Peace Talks with the Taliban. Foreign Ministry and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed that the letter has been received. Chaudhry said the U.S. president told Khan that relations with Pakistan were “very important” to solving the Afghan conflict, especially in helping to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

The letter, which has not been publicly confirmed by U.S. officials, would be Trump’s first direct communication with Khan since the former cricket star took office as prime minister in August. As for indirect exchanges, the two leaders posted angry tweets two weeks ago after Trump told Fox News, he had cut aid to Pakistan because it would “take our money and do nothing for us.”

The reported request from Trump came as his special envoy for Afghan peace, Zalmay Khalilzad, was expected to arrive in Pakistan on Tuesday for further talks on the issue. His previous visits have been received cordially but have not resulted in any concrete agreements.

The Trump administration is eager for the peace talks to move forward and the conflict to end after 17 years. Khalilzad has met with Taliban leaders and a variety of regional officials over the past several months, but there has been no breakthrough. The insurgents continue to insist that foreign forces must leave the country under any deal and that they will negotiate only with U.S. officials.

Trump has made numerous critical comments about Pakistan in the past, some of them sarcastic in tone. He suspended military aid last year to the longtime U.S. security ally, saying it had not done enough to rein in a branch of the Taliban insurgents, known as the Haqqani network, that U.S. officials believe shelters inside the Pakistani border with Afghanistan.

The message reportedly sent by Trump was far more diplomatic and polite, and it couched Pakistan’s role as potentially constructive and helpful in ending the Afghan war, rather than as part of the problem. Pakistani officials, in turn, welcomed the letter.

Counterpoint

This is the first instance where Donald Trump is considering Pakistan as an ally in the fight against the Taliban. He has historically been critical of Islamabad’s role in supporting the terrorist outfit in the region. In the recent series of tweets, Trump complained that the United States had given hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan but that officials there had “never informed us” that Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, was living there in a city near a major Pakistani army facility. Bin Laden was killed in a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011.

Instead of “making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures,” Khan tweeted, the United States should undertake a “serious assessment” of why, after a war involving hundreds of thousands of NATO and Afghan troops and more than $1 trillion in costs, “the Taliban today are stronger than ever before.”

Assessment

Our assessment is that the US is finally seeing Pakistan as an ally in the drawn-out war with the Taliban. We believe that the US is also looking to capitalize on Pakistan’s over-dependence on Chinese investments and act as a suitable counterweight to the CPEC debt burden.

India Watch

India has been a partner in development for Afghanistan. The security and stability of Afghanistan are of deep concern for New Delhi. A prosperous Afghan state is beneficial for India as much as it is for regional peace and stability. Even though India has already denied giving the Taliban a status equal to a legitimate state during the talks, India’s participation will be crucial as the preeminent regional power.