Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

Optimism and pessimism over Pakistan and Qatar peace process


Optimism and pessimism over Pakistan  and Qatar peace process

The “Lahore Peace Conference” kicked off in Bhurban, a Pakistani town located near Lahore and Islamabad, on Saturday morning where many Afghan politicians have attended. In the Lahore peace conference which was titled “Lahore Process” at Bhurbhan in Murree nearly 50 senior Afghan leaders have been invited. Out of the invited leaders into the conference, the Afghan Former president Hamid Karzai has not attended the meeting saying due to a limited time for preparations. However, he thanked Pakistan for hosting the meeting and said he will visit the neighboring country in another opportunity.
The key Afghan politicians who have attended the conference are Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, second deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqeq, and presidential candidate Abdul Latif Pedram.  Other important figures include the High Peace Council Chairman Mohammad Karim Khalili, presidential candidate Mohammad Haneef Atmar, former vice president Mohammad Yunus Qanooni, and former governor Ismail Khan. The event was organized by Lahore Center for Peace Research (LCPR) and the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI). The Afghan leaders are also scheduled to hold a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan during their visit.
Given the various opinions debated in Afghan political community and media, there were both optimisms and pessimisms about the conference. According to optimists, the Lahore conference will provide an opportunity for the Afghan leaders and Pakistani experts to exchange views on the peace process. According to pessimists, the Lahore conference seems suspicious because it was organized too suddenly and also in a sensitive step of Doha peace talks. On the other hand, none of the main stakeholders of peace and war such as Taliban and government of Afghanistan and nor the academic figures of Afghanistan have been invited to the meeting. When such meetings are organized by the academic institutes of Pakistan, LCPR and SASSI, it is expected to invite the academic figures of Afghanistan, not the faces who are famous in political deal.
Other comments which were raised in Afghan media community are that Islamabad probably attempts to change the content of the US-Taliban talks by launching a new process.   The main current discussions between the Taliban and the US are about the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the future of the fight against terrorism in the region, and the fate Afghan political system. The concerns of Islamabad are to reduce the influence of New Delhi, raise the Durand-line issue and also include the Islamabad’s regional status in order to redefine its national interests. Overall, Islamabad wants to redefine its role in Afghanistan with the help of the armed and unarmed opposition group of Afghan government before the President Ghani visit Islamabad on June 27 and importantly before the Doha talks finalize in Qatar.
Given that the Afghan president is coming to Pakistan soon, given that the peace process has apparently reached a sensitive stage, and given that Pakistan is still blamed for supporting Taliban in planning suicide attacks on Afghanistan, the aforementioned analysis seems meaningful. Many Afghan asks if really Pakistan is honest in what they said as not seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan, why they do not abolish the Quetta Council and why they do not stop funding terrorism. Indeed, if this country does not seek strategic depth, why they do not invite academic faces in the conference. These and dozens of other questions were reflected today in Afghani local media.
Anyway, the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi opened the conference by saying that his country will continue its efforts toward peace and stability in Afghanistan. He stressed that Pakistan is committed in its efforts to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan.  “For far too long, the vicious circle of mistrust, often fed into by our common enemies, has affected our relationship. The blame-game has not helped either of us,” Qureshi said, according to his speech notes released by the Pakistani media.”It is indispensable to move away from this negative paradigm. It is incumbent upon the leadership of the two countries to take practical steps to build mutual trust and confidence.”
Among the Afghan leaders who addressed in the conference was Hekmatyar; he pointed out that talks between Taliban and US is not enough to solve Afghan conflict but only Afghans can solve the problem.  He said that a halt to foreign intervention can help end the Afghan war. Hekmatyar said that he wants Afghans unanimous voice to call for foreign forces’ withdrawal from the country. 
Following this conference, the seventh round of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar have already scheduled for June 29. Both Washington and Kabul believe that Pakistan has influence over Taliban and Islamabad’s support is considered key to ending the nearly 18-year insurgency.  Kabul and Washington have long accused Pakistan of harboring Taliban militants who launch attacks inside Afghanistan, but Ghani recently said he was hopeful that years of mistrust can be replaced by cooperation toward peace.
However, the main purpose Qatar peace talks and US’s goals are also not clear to may Afghan people. Recently Moh Hadi Muslimyar, the speaker of Mshran Girga, criticized that why Afghan people and their representatives in the house of nation do not know about the contents of US and Taliban Talks. On the other hand, Washington ensures that Qatar talk is to end the 18 years war in Afghanistan. Ghani, his political opponents and Afghan civil society have been holding meetings in recent days with the United States’ special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who continues to press for talks between the Afghan government, the opposition and the Taliban.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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