The Role of Pakistan in the Afghanistan Peace Process: An Appraisal

Pakistan has played a pivotal role in facilitating the Afghanistan peace process. Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process is a series of dialogue efforts carried out by national, regional and global actors involved in the Afghan conflict for achieving political stability by ending the brewing civil war in Afghanistan. The most comprehensive and consistent effort in this regard is the Doha peace process, which is a dialogue between the US and Afghan Taliban held in Qatar, both of whom are vital actors involved in this armed conflict.  The previous peace process including the Istanbul peace process and the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) having Pakistan, Taliban, China and US as members, failed to produce any conclusive results due to the diverging perspective of the US, Pakistan and Taliban on achieving peace in Afghanistan.

US President Donald Trump wants to end the Afghan war before 2020. He has brought clarity in the US perspective by shifting its focus from a military solution to a non-military solution of the Afghan conflict. The latter aims at achieving political stability in Afghanistan through a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban, who are a real and potent force of Afghan geopolitics. Taliban are the main actors in the conflict with the US and Afghan governments. The realization of this factor came to the US administration after the failure of President Trump’s US, South Asia and Afghanistan policy, 2016, which aimed at crushing them through use of force. As a consequence, the US has shifted its focus toward having dialogue with Taliban which is materialized through the support of Pakistan.

Pakistan has always emphasized on a regional approach to end armed conflict in Afghanistan through a non-military solution of ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process’ as a political settlement for achieving durable peace in Afghanistan and the region. The shift in the US perspective towards having a dialogue with the Taliban is the reinforcement of Pakistan’s perspective. Therefore, the converging perspective between the US and Pakistan has brought clarity and warmth in their bilateral relations concerning Afghanistan. Pakistan has been successful in making the US realize its role in this current dialogue process as a sincere facilitator. Pakistan’s role is acknowledged by President Trump during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit. Qatar has hosted this dialogue, and named it the Doha peace process, because the Taliban have their political office in Qatar since 2011.

Eight rounds of Doha peace dialogue have been held until now between the US and Taliban representatives in Doha. The US delegation was led by Special Envoy Zalmay Kahlil Zad, while the Taliban dialogue committee was led by Abdul Ghani Baradar. Both sides emphasized on the acceptance of their positions as vital for the success of this dialogue. The United States’ demand from the Taliban was focused on signing a ceasefire agreement and gaining consent for intra-Afghan dialogue before the next Presidential election in Kabul. The Taliban emphasized on a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops as starting point for this peace process.  Both sides have reported progress on this dialogue process, which is a positive sign for achieving political stability in Afghanistan.

The US and Afghan media have claimed in their reports, in the first week of August, that the Taliban and US have finalized a consensus agreement on a peace formula to the Afghanistan conflict, but the terms of reference of this agreement are under consideration and deliberation by both sides for finalizing legalities. However, this agreement will be announced in a formal signing ceremony in the coming weeks. This is the most important development in the context of regional peace and security. According to these reports, 5,000 US troops will leave Afghanistan in the next six months after the signing of the agreement by both sides. Voice of America and Radio Azadi have confirmed in their news stories that Ashraf Ghani’s government got a copy of this agreement. The presidential elections, which were scheduled to be held in September 2019, will now be delayed due to this development. PM Imran Khan also referred to good news related to the Afghanistan peace process during his US visit. The US President, Donald Trump, has also expressed such hope while talking to the media on 18 August and says that the peace formula with the Taliban will be announced in a couple of weeks.

The US media has claimed this news after confirmation from Afghan and US sources, which reflects the flexibility shown by both sides in their approach during the 8th session of the dialogue. This decision is not formally announced because the work on legalities is under progress. The US wanted assurance from the Taliban that Afghan soil will not be used for international terrorist networks threatening US interests. However, this is the first concrete phase of the Afghanistan peace process. The next phase of this peace process is the intra-Afghan dialogue, which is a major challenge for Afghan conflict stakeholders because of the stubbornness of the Afghan government.

The most comprehensive role can be played by those regional stakeholders who exercise a certain degree of influence on all other Afghan national peace stakeholders other than Taliban. Ashraf Ghani’s government and opposition parties in the Afghan Parliament are the main actors of this second phase of ‘Intra-Afghan dialogue’ along with the Taliban.  A regional approach for materializing the ‘Intra-Afghan dialogue’ is required because none of the single regional states or global powers, including US, China and Russia, have an influence on all the national actors involved in this conflict.  Pakistan has played an important role in facilitating the second phase of the current Afghan peace process by organizing a conference for all Afghan political parties in Murree in the summer. Later, it was given the name of the Lahore process. Similar efforts are carried out by Russia by organizing two conferences for all Afghan political parties in Moscow which were given the name of Moscow peace process for deliberation between and among all national stakeholders of Afghanistan. The most recent development in this regard is the Afghanistan peace conference held in China where the delegation of Taliban has also participated and expressed their willingness for dialogue with the Afghan government.

As a result of these confidence-building measures, the Afghan government has officially constituted a 15-member delegation for a dialogue with the Taliban. The Taliban have also expressed their consent for dialogue with Afghan government as their conditions for dialogue with the US and Afghan government are accepted in this peace process. This peace process will be cumbersome because of a multitude of actors and their conflicting views. The most important agenda of this process will be to reach out for a consensus for future constitutional framework and political set-up in Afghanistan.  An inclusive approach proposing a multi-party Jirga system of the government, based on the tribal experience of Afghanistan spread over the course of centuries, having participation from all ethnicities and political factions, can offer a stable political setup in Afghanistan. Although, its chances are bleak because of the warlord cultural, as an outcome of war experiences developed during the 20th and 21st century, will encourage them on the use of force for achieving factional interests. Therefore, the role of regional and global powers as guarantors to this peace process will increase in the future for the implementation of the consensus document and negotiated political formula, which will be the third and most important phase of this peace process. Therefore, Pakistan’s role will increase in the future trajectory of this current Afghanistan peace process.

Ayaz Khokhar
About Ayaz Khokhar 18 Articles
The author holds an M. Phil in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is an independent political analyst. His areas of interest are Trends in Geopolitics and Politics of South Asia

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