Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

Will Pakistan Support Intra-Afghan Dialogue?

The political gap between Kabul and Islamabad is likely to be narrowed with high-level exchanges. Imran Khan’s maiden visit to Kabul, accompanied by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, DG ISI Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed and other senior officials, was crucial for cementing Afghan-Pak ties.
Pakistani officials have constantly suggested a negotiated settlement in the ongoing violence and militancy and Afghan authorities called on Islamabad to put its weight behind the peace process and use its leverage on the Taliban leadership. However, with the Taliban’s unmitigated insurgency and refusal to reduce violence, Afghan officials and ordinary people have viewed Pakistan with doubt and mistrust. Islamabad said it had proved its sincerity through brokering talks between the Taliban and the United States. But Pakistan’s weight is not felt in the talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government negotiators underway in Doha, Qatar’s capital, since the Taliban have refused to declare ceasefire. The Afghan side expects Islamabad to persuade the Taliban to decrease violence, which will move the process forward.
With the ongoing talks in Qatar, Kabul and Islamabad have been trying for months to remove mistrust between them. It is believed that the trust deficit between the two sides will be over if Pakistan persuades the Taliban to declare ceasefire and put leverage on their leadership to reach an agreement with the Afghan government.
Generally speaking, there are concerns about the outcome of peace talks and the US troop pullout from the country. The Trump administration has announced that 2,000 more troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by January 15 just days before the inauguration of Joe Biden, which may further embolden the Taliban. 
Breakthrough is cited in the ongoing intra-Afghan dialogue, but there are still ifs and buts. If the talks reach stalemate, political analysts believe that Pentagon still has the firepower to deter the Taliban leadership.
The post-Trump administration may put the troop pullout on hold or seek withdrawal in a situation whereby the country has some semblance of stability.
H.R. McMaster, a retired US general and former advisor to President Trump, said the Trump administration was handling the Taliban a victory by withdrawing troops, calling the plan abhorrent.
Meanwhile, head of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation suggested the drawdown in US troops should be linked to a breakthrough in the ongoing dialogue.
At the conclusion of Khan’s daylong visit, the two sides issued a joint statement which said, “By December 15, 2020: Re-energizing joint intelligence services-led work on analyzing, mapping and cooperating against enemies of peace and those undermining the peace process.” Hence, the two countries have set a timeline to deal with the issue of militants that pose threat to them.
Overall, the Afghan side believes that Pakistan has strong leverage on the Taliban leadership and as it could bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, it is able to persuade them to reach agreement with the Ghani administration and reduce violence.
Afghan officials and ordinary people wait for the outcome of Khan’s visit to see how much Pakistan will work for the peace and stability in Afghanistan as well as the intra-Afghan talks. In other words, the high-level exchanges have triggered hope and optimism to some extent. If Pakistan could prove its good neighborliness through supporting the ongoing talks and putting pressure on the Taliban to reduce violence, the bonhomie between the two sides will increase. Nonetheless, if Pakistan ends everything on paper and words, the public perspective will not change about Pakistan and the mistrust will continue.
Afghan-Pak officials have agreed to continue such high-level exchanges and Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani is likely to travel to Pakistan in the first quarter of next year. But such exchanges may be contingent on Pakistan’s support and goodwill.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have to narrow the rift and work in tandem for the fruition of the intra-Afghan dialogue and do not let the talks be derailed. The Kabul administration showed its goodwill for the talks through releasing more than 5,000 Taliban fighters from its jails and persistently calling the Taliban to resolve the tension through negotiated settlement. However, the Taliban showed their lukewarm response to Kabul’s olive branch through intensifying their attacks against the government and refusing to declare ceasefire or reduce violence. Worst, the Taliban also maintained their ties with al-Qaeda network, despite pledging in their agreement with the US to cut ties with it. Therefore, the Taliban created obstacles to the dialogue through violating their agreement and spilling the blood of Afghan soldiers and civilians. So the Taliban should be pressured to honor their deal and negotiate with genuine intention at the table.