Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, August 7th, 2020

Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Peace Efforts


Afghanistan, Pakistan  and the Peace Efforts

The recent visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Reza Gilani to Kabul has thrown up some very important results as far as the two country's evolving partnership for peace is concerned. The most important outcome of the talks between the leaders of the two countries was creation of a joint two-tier commission comprised of officials from both countries to seriously pursue peace and reconciliation initiatives. In attendance were also Pakistan's powerful Chief of Army Staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director-general of the country's principal intelligence agency, the inter-services intelligence (ISI). The presence of these two powerful Pakistani figures along with the Prime Minister in Kabul is in itself an unmistakable sign that the climate of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan is fast changing and Pakistan, including its army, is tightening belts to give a major push to the peace initiatives floated by President Karzai. A host of issues were discussed between President Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister including strategic cooperation concerning the peace and reconciliation initiative, the trade and transit agreement between the two countries, border issues and other matters related to the bilateral relations.

The two countries agreed to expand the existing commission which is at the level of foreign ministers of both the countries. The new commission will be a two-tier body; the first tier will include the heads of governments, that is President Karzai and Prime Minister Gilani in addition to foreign ministers and military and intelligence chiefs of both the countries. The second tier will be comprised of officials from the two country's foreign ministries and military and intelligence to coordinate and follow up on the agreements made. The inclusion of heads of governments and chiefs of military and intelligence agencies in the new commission speaks of the two governments' decision to enter into the real and the strategic phase of pursuing reconciliation initiatives.

As President Karzai said in a press conference after the talks, as far as the issue of peace and reconciliation attempts with Taliban is concerned, the two countries are warming up to each other and showing clear signs that they are willing to jointly work towards bringing a negotiated settlement to the conflict in the country; although for the people of Afghanistan, the cost for peace might end up to be really high. These developments are indeed historic as said by President Karzai and qualify to be regarded as a major game-changer in the triangle of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Taliban.

Whether the announced commission will be at least partly successful in partitioning the ranks of Taliban and persuading certain wings of them to lay down arms depends on how much Pakistan will be committed to this new enterprise. The previous commissions set up by the government of Afghanistan tasked with negotiation with Taliban such as the Commission for Strengthening of Peace were outright failures. These commissions were not able to project themselves as a formidable and strong platform that could pursue talks with militants in a strategic and serious manner involving other regional countries such as Pakistan. The new joint commission announced on Saturday, in addition to taking onboard Pakistan as an important regional country able to affect developments, has also a strategic dimension by involving the highest officials from both countries.

Pakistan, not only its civilian government but also its powerful military, has clearly shown in recent months that it is indeed interested in joint cooperation with President Karzai over the peace initiative floated and seriously pursued by him. Earlier this year, the visit of a delegation of the High Peace Council and Burhanuddin Rabbani to Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the seats of Pakistani government and military respectively, indicated the new attitude in Pakistan to the idea of reconciliation with militants. As the episodes of this drama are unfolding one by one, Pakistan is emerging eager to use the leverage it has over sections of the Taliban and other militant groups to push them towards considering the offers of peace.

As said, the new commission, in addition to having a major strategic content, has a large-scale Pakistani backing involving that country's main centers of power. This makes the new commission especially powerful and with a great potential for enabling both countries to push Taliban and other militant groups towards considering offers of reconciliation. However, Pakistan and Afghanistan are not the only major stakeholders that their position and decisions matter. The road to reconciliation will prove to be a dead-end if the U.S. is not onboard and if it sees the Afghanistan-Pakistan initiative as a danger to its own interests in Afghanistan and the broader region. Moreover, stability and end to long-standing conflicts in Afghanistan also to a great extent depends on Pakistan's internal situation especially in its border states. A calm Afghanistan will not be sustainable if there will be chaos and turmoil inside Pakistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister, Seyed Yusuf Reza Gilani, said in Kabul that the U.S. is also taken onboard on the establishment of the new commission. While the U.S. wants Afghanistan and Pakistan to work jointly on their bilateral issues, the red line for the U.S. is a peace process that will be exclusively led by Afghanistan and Pakistan excluding the U.S. interests. In its geo-political calculations, the U.S. and its military stationed here in Afghanistan cannot accept being excluded from the process. This means the U.S. will not accept a peace process that will be truly Afghan-led despite its officials announcing their wishes for Afghan government's "total ownership" of its own affairs. President Karzai's warming up to Pakistan and his decision to pursue peace efforts without taking the U.S. onboard has already angered Washington and Pentagon. That is also more or less the underlying reason for the deterioration of relations between Kabul and Washington in recent years.

Now that President Karzai is bent on taking its reconciliation efforts to a higher level, he needs to be reminded that although the people of Afghanistan are tired of decades of war and that peace is highly desirable, the question is peace at what cost? Is peace at the cost of shredding to pieces the current nascent democratic order and Constitution of Afghanistan desirable? Is peace at the cost of reversal of the gains made in recent years desirable? These are the real issues and concerns of the people of Afghanistan that should be given weight in any future peace process.

Mehdi Rezaie is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlookafghanistan@gmail.com

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