Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Trilateral Dialogue – Light at the End of the Tunnel

Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and China are meeting in Kabul to discuss security issue. The three sides will hold their second trilateral ministerial dialogue to reaffirm their support for facilitating peace talks and pushing the Taliban to the table with Ghani’s administration. 
Pakistan, under Imran Khan’s leadership, seems more willing to back peace talks as it released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a key member of the Taliban, in October to facilitate talks between the US and the Taliban.
However, a sense of mistrust is still felt between Afghanistan and Pakistan and it is feared that the blame game will emerge between the two sides if insurgents continue their attacks or peace talks come to a dead-end. Realizing Pakistan’s essential role in peace talks and Afghanistan’s strategic position in Asia, China is seeking to bring the two countries closer. “As a friend of both countries, China is making every effort to build confidence between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is cited as saying. Stressing negotiation as a solution to the crisis, Wang said, “We urge the Taliban to take advantage of this chance for peace and hold negotiations.”
It is widely believed that Pakistan’s support for peace talks carries much weight. “I don’t think China is in the position to bring the Taliban to negotiating table. Taliban, as you know, is proud and tough. I do not think China developed a strong leverage that changes Taliban’s track. As to Pakistan, yes, Pakistan has a leverage over Taliban,” said Dr. Zeng Xiangyu, a professor of South Asia Studies at Sichuan University.
The tripartite dialogue is highly essential in this sensitive time as the US is seeking to step up the peace talks with the Taliban so as to end the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan. If regional powers push the Taliban to reach an agreement with their interlocutors, insurgency will certainly subside in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the dialogue will not only mitigate the mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad but also cement ties among Afghanistan, Pakistan and China.
Afghanistan expects its international allies and neighboring countries to persuade the Taliban’s leadership to hold talks with Kabul government, which has been refused by the Taliban so far. Holding firm stance for talks, Kabul has established Peace Advisory Board, which consists of high-level officials and jihadi leaders, to decide in consultation with political elites regarding the negotiations. Both Kabul and its US ally intend to reach an agreement with the Taliban before Afghanistan’s presidential election, which will be held in less than five months.
It is self-explanatory that terrorism has had its toll on Pakistan in general and Afghanistan in particular. Despite its strong counterinsurgency, Afghanistan has borne the brunt of terrorism. That is, Afghan soldiers and civilians have sustained the largest number of casualties in the wake of terrorist attacks within the past years, especially after the withdrawal of NATO troops as the Taliban intensified their attacks.
To put an end to Afghanistan’s conflict, international and regional powers, including Pakistan, have to use their leverage to push the Taliban to the peace table. Currently, all regional stakeholders – including Pakistan, China and Russia – believe that dialogue is the only solution to the conflict, however, designing an undisputed roadmap and holding an inclusive meeting, with the presence of all international stakeholders, are challenging the desired result of such meetings. Hence, all sides need to draw a roadmap for talks and put enough pressure on the Taliban to come to the table with bona fide intention.
It should be noted that the Taliban have capitalized on peace talks up to now without taking a single step for peace. They have continued their intensified attacks and refused to negotiate with Kabul government – which signal that the Taliban are seeking privileges rather than truce. Bargaining for much higher price with international powers such as the US and Russia, the Taliban’s confidence has been boosted in the battlefields. So, giving further privileges to the Taliban will backfire.
With having a strong leverage on the Taliban, Pakistan is believed to be a highly heavyweight stakeholder in peace talks. Thus, it is hoped that this round of meetings between the three neighboring countries will bear more fruitful result.
With the strong determination of regional and international stakeholders for meaningful talks, the ball is now in the Taliban’s court. The Taliban should not forget that military deal is always the second option.