It was endearing for many to see the vivid images of Afghans hugging, embracing and posing for photos with Taliban insurgents in the wake of a three-day ceasefire, as announced by the Taliban, which went into effect from June 15 to 17. Earlier, the Afghan government had announced to cease operations against Taliban for eight days that ran from June 12-19.
The countrywide truce was the first ever of its kind since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Hopes were high that perhaps a permanent peace was not a distant dream.
Apparently, the ceasefire came about thanks to the convergence of interests among the US, the Afghan government and Pakistan. The increasing casualties of Afghan soldiers, policemen and civilians and, as of January 2018, Taliban’s control over 12 per cent of the population in Afghanistan forced the US and Afghan government to conceive a ceasefire. Obviously, the unceasing violence calls into question the utility of the presence of the US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan. Likewise, the militant violence discredits the Afghan government too. Similarly, Pakistan’s cooperation was exacted as, apparently, the US-led Nato forces and the Afghan government conceded to Pakistan’s longstanding demand of action against Mulla Fazlullah who was “hiding in Afghanistan since 2009,” as alleged by Director General Inter-Services Public Relations.
The Afghan government in agreement with the US delivered on the count when Fazlullah was killed in a drone attack on June 15 in eastern Kunar province close to Pak-Afghan border. Asa reported, on June 7, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telephoned Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa and discussed with him the “need for political reconciliation in Afghanistan…” On June 12, the COAS, along with a number of senior officials visited Kabul and met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, other Afghan officials and Gen John Nicholson, Resolute Support Mission Commander. They discussed Afghan peace efforts. Understandably, the flurry of diplomatic activity must have been the result of behind-the-scene efforts making it possible for the policymakers to sit on a table and explore means and ways to bring about a temporary peace in Afghanistan.
Seemingly, following points stand out from the success of the temporary truce. First, Pakistan still has influence with the Taliban insurgents to nudge them to strike a truce. By implication, Pakistan may even bring the insurgents to the negotiation table. Secondly, the Afghan government and its western allies, especially the US were aware of the presence of the Fazlullah in Kunar, Afghanistan, and that they could have eliminated him earlier but they chose not! Thirdly, it is through reciprocity of demands that US, Afghanistan and Pakistan can deliver to the satisfaction of the three parties.
Any suspension of hostilities and the ensuing peace agreement, if any, are bound to be fragile until they are based on the solid foundation of the real intensions and motives of the stakeholders concerned. Spoiler tries to exploit the fault lines in such a situation. On June 16, in Nangarhar province, a suicide bombing claimed by ISIS struck in a gathering of Taliban, Afghan soldiers and civilians and killed 26 people. On June 17, another suicide attack, attributed to ISIS, killed fourteen people in Jalalabad.
The US has an overarching role and hence bears the greatest responsibility for peace or its absence in Afghanistan. Washington should learn from history that occupying Afghanistan has always exacted too unbearable a cost on every imperialist power to withstand. History has not been taking a different course for the US either. In order to avoid Afghan wrath, Washington needs an arrangement which might somehow justify its presence in Kabul.
Seemingly, the US envisions a long term stay at the court of Kabul and it should not shy away from reaching an understanding with the Afghan government to the effect. Assuming that Taliban are integrated, even then Afghanistan needs long term US help in the state-building endeavour.
After Afghanistan, it is Pakistan which has suffered the most as a result of instability at the court of Kabul. So, rational calculation demands that policymakers here in Pakistan need to change tactics if not necessarily the core goals of their Afghan policy. In the first place, any impression of conceiving Afghanistan as the ‘fifth province’ must be laid to rest. Secondly, Taliban should be persuaded to enter as a political actor in the Afghan political arena. The Afghan president has already welcomed the prospect of Taliban as a political party. Nevertheless, seeing Taliban as an extension of Pakistan’s influence should be resisted.
Put differently, Taliban have interests independent of Pakistan or any other regional state. Taliban’s longstanding demand of negotiating with the Americans directly needs to be entertained. Whatsoever the reasons, Taliban are a real actor to be reckoned with.
The past 17 years of Afghan history is a stark reminder that violence has begot only violence and that peace in Afghanistan is essential for peace in Pakistan. Pakistan’s ‘double dealing’ is the outcome of the US policy of playing both ends against the middle. In the big picture, Islamabad’s policy towards Kabul has been playing second fiddle to that of Washington’s. A stable Afghanistan, therefore, will always be a distant dream until the US mends its ways in the country.