Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

Imran Khan’s Trip to Afghanistan Crucial to Peace Process

The intra-Afghan dialogue is ongoing in the Qatari capital of Doha, but regional stakeholders still have not put all their weight behind the talks, which have not led to agreement or stability so far. Pakistan has strong leverage on the Taliban leadership and the relations between Kabul and Islamabad have been repaired after hitting the rock bottom for years. The bonhomie between the two sides is likely to be cemented with the exchanges of trips of Afghan-Pak high-ranking officials. 
The visit of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, head of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, to Islamabad late last month seemed significant for building mutual trust. Pakistani officials received Abdullah with open arms and the two sides exchanged views about the issue of peace talks and bilateral cooperation.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is going to have a trip to Afghanistan within few days. His trip will carry much significance for strengthening mutual ties between Kabul and Islamabad.
Afghan former president Hamid Karzai and the incumbent president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani called on Pakistan on multiple occasions to support Afghanistan in the peace process and use its leverage on the Taliban leadership. On the other hand, a blame game between Kabul and Islamabad exchanged for years, which created mistrust and bilateral relations soured. With Imran Khan at the helm, Afghans hoped for Pakistan’s cooperation and friendly relations.
Pakistan made promises to support the Afghan peace process, however, it still did not fulfill its promises since neither the Taliban were pressured by Islamabad nor the security situation was affected. Afrasiab Khattak, a former member of Pakistan’s senate and an analyst of regional affairs, said, “Apart from its influence over the Taliban, the Pakistani security apparatus has deep old contacts among former Afghan Mujahideen leaders. Some of the Taliban and former Mujahideen leaders have large-scale investments and economic interests in Pakistan.” He added, “Players from all sides, particularly the US and Pakistan, need to rethink their strategy. Reconciliation and peace can be achieved by fair deal that accommodates all sides. Governments will keep changing – that is not the issue. But ‘rule of the game’ are required. To achieve such rules, the Afghan state system, based on the Afghan Constitution, should be strengthened and should remain the focus of all efforts.”
Afghans strongly believe that Pakistan has influence over the Taliban. Imran Khan should come with goodwill and make a firm commitment to support the intra-Afghan dialogue. In other words, Afghan and Pakistani officials exchanged views about the peace process in every meeting they had, but no positive changes have emerged in the process. If Pakistani officials are really concerned about the spillover, as they always aired apprehension, they have to pressure the Taliban to stop playing a foul game at the negotiating table and discuss peace with genuine intention and reduce their violence.
Generally speaking, Afghan ordinary people view Pakistan with doubt and mistrust. To earn the public trust and change the general perspective, Pakistan needs to support the Afghan peace process and pressure the Taliban to reach an agreement with the Afghan government.
It is self-explanatory that peace and stability in Afghanistan will be in the interest of Pakistan and vice versa. With this in mind, Pakistan should persuade the Taliban to sign a peace agreement with Kabul in the near future. That is to say, peace talks have reached a critical juncture, and regional as well as international stakeholders have to put their weight behind the process so that the talks bear the desired result. If the intra-Afghan dialogue fails, military deal seems to be the only solution. In such a case, violence and insurgency will increase to a greater extent. Therefore, it will be hard to bring the two sides to the negotiating table again.
Overall, Kabul and Islamabad need more than anytime to cement their ties and join their cooperation to move the peace process forward. Khan is more reasonable than his predecessors and will support the talks.
Afghanistan and its international allies have to achieve regional and global consensus on the peace talks. That is, regional and global stakeholders should try not to let the talks be derailed and put pressure on the Taliban leadership to discuss peace with genuine intention.
If the Taliban derail the talks through their escalated militancy and violence, peace will remain elusive and the past struggles for bringing the Taliban to the table will be in vain. There is a strong need for the support of regional stakeholders in general, and Pakistan in particular.