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Afghan peace: Why Pakistan should no more “do more”

According to Maheen Ahmed, a Research Associate at IPRI, Pakistan has done a lot for Afghanistan and the US, yet there are campaigns falsely accusing Pakistan of not doing enough and derailing the Afghan peace process by supporting the Taliban. However, it is high time that countries realize Pakistan cannot and should not “do more.”

The US is leaving Afghanistan. It is all that anyone wants to talk about, and rightly so, with news that grand. Is the US leaving because it fulfilled its strategic objectives? No. If you recall, Ambassador Khalilzad once defined US objectives in Afghanistan as seeking a sovereign, unified and democratic Afghanistan that was at peace with itself and its neighbors.

Little doubt remains on whether the US was able to achieve the overarching objective of nation-building that it set out to do. Has the US defeated the Taliban militarily? Well yes and no, if the aim of the US was to achieve conventional military gains, i.e. destroying the Taliban military bases and such, then yes.

However, the fact remains that the US faced guerilla warfare tactics from the Taliban and there were slim chances for them to achieve a convincing military win, to begin with. It would also appear that the US had not learned any lessons from its experience in Vietnam and the aftermath is directly visible.

After seizing much of the countryside in recent weeks, the Taliban are now gaining ground in Afghanistan’s urban centers as well and are reported to be in control of nearly 65% of the Afghan territory.

Fresh accusations against Pakistan?

It is peculiar though – the talk of the town doesn’t seem to be how the US is hastily leaving in such a way it appears as though it is abandoning Afghanistan. Instead, the talk has started to center around how Pakistan is not doing enough to contribute to the Afghan peace process. Many claim that Pakistan is not exercising any leverage in order to pressure the Taliban to contribute meaningfully to the peace process.

Time and time again, Pakistan’s security apparatus and leadership have declared that Pakistan will not be a guarantor and it will only be a facilitator. It has given assurances that it recognizes how much it has to gain in the stability of Afghanistan, and has urged the international community to realize that Pakistan is badly affected by the instability that spills over from Afghanistan.

We hear all the time from top policy officials, so often that it has become etched in our memories and comfortably placed on the tip of our tongues that the ideal outcome in the Afghan peace process is if it is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Perhaps, no matter how many times it is said, doubt still remains, people remain skeptical, and rumors spur on.

The latest rumor, fresh off the rumor mill, is that Pakistan has favorites. The International Crisis Group, in its latest publication, alleged that Pakistan supported the Afghan peace process singularly so that ‘it’s longtime Taliban ally can use the talks as a road to power with international legitimacy and attendant economic support.’

The publication claims that Pakistan had vested interests in having the Taliban’s inclusion in power sharing arrangements, which could not be further from the truth. Pakistan has no favorites.

A trip down memory lane

This episode is beginning to look all too familiar. Recall when Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man post 9/11, was found in a compound in Abbottabad. Once US Navy SEALs had raided the compound, and then bin Laden was dismissed (albeit mysteriously) into the depths of the ocean, Pakistan was asked to sit center-stage in front of the jury.

At the drop of a hat, Pakistani diplomats in all major capitals around the world were met with a barrage of questions – ‘why did Pakistan lend support to OBL? How can we believe that Pakistan did not know he was there?’

People dismissed any logical arguments that it could’ve been an intelligence failure and that the more pressing question was why the US breached Pakistan’s sovereignty that day on 2nd May rather than take its ally into confidence. The answers fell on deaf ears, but now, flash forward to a decade later, it has been confirmed that OBL really did not receive any help or assistance from Pakistan.

Peter Bergen, in his article for the Wall Street Journal, writes of how thousands of pages of documents recovered from OBL’s compound in Abbottabad contain nothing to back up the idea that OBL was protected by Pakistan officials or in communication with them. If anything, in his little compound, OBL was trying to plot attacks on Pakistani military targets.

Pakistan to no more “do more”

In good faith, Pakistan policy-makers have repeatedly urged for all stakeholders to recognize that a political settlement outweighs a military solution and that the solution in the conundrum that Afghanistan finds itself lies in a negotiated settlement, one that is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned.

It is sad to see that this has been arm-twisted and misconstrued to having meant that Pakistan has its own vested interests in seeing the Taliban’s return to Kabul, that somehow it has always been Pakistan’s game plan to push for a negotiated settlement because it wants the Taliban to form a majority part of the power-sharing in Afghanistan.

In such allegations, one overlooks that the alternative would be a military takeover. The Taliban are gaining power not because Pakistan is supporting such an outcome, but because the US is drawing its forces, and the consequential violence and growing insecurity are reducing the space for intra-Afghan political reconciliation. As the Taliban take hold of more territory, the hope of negotiating peace becomes slimmer.

Interestingly, on the subject of other countries’ role in the Afghan peace process, the world is quieter. Even President Biden in his 14 May withdrawal announcement, when calling on regional countries to place pressure on the Taliban, singled Pakistan to do the most. The report by the ICG spares at most a sentence for other ‘governments in the region’ to pressure the Taliban but goes at length on what Pakistan ought to do.

This time, Pakistan cannot and should not “do more.” It is the Afghan people who are the sole sovereign over their country, and they should lead and define their future. Pakistan desires to facilitate and support a peaceful, stable, and united Afghanistan, but it is important Afghans themselves reach an inclusive, broad-based political settlement. As put by President Biden recently, the Afghans “got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”

Note: This article appeared on Global Village Space, dated 11 August 2021.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.

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