Negotiations for peaceful resolution of the Afghan imbroglio appear to have entered a decisive stage although it is never clear how the parleys will proceed ahead. After a long hesitation, America has recognised the central role of the Taliban in the long-drawn conflict but this stage has reached after the US-led alliance felt direly threatened by military advantage having gone over to Taliban in the field. Along with Taliban the alliance also realised the cogent role of Pakistan as it was only possible through Pakistani intercession that Taliban agreed to come to the negotiating table.
While Americans have agreed to parley but they are also aware that they have decisively weakened Taliban and have built a credible contrary force in shape of Kabul regime and Afghan Defence Force that may well act the Taliban part if their presence and future role is not determined. Currently, Taliban are adamant not to let Kabul regime become part of the parleys but such a situation will not last long. Kabul regime is a legitimate government widely recognised and supported by not only the western alliance but countries such as Turkey whose defence forces took part in armed campaign against insurgency in Afghanistan.
During the last 17 years Afghanistan has evolved with an active media and international investments to reconstruct the land locked country. It has created widespread links internationally and the rights of its minority communities are internationally recognised. The years gone by have witnessed Afghanistan creating stakes in Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China thereby integrating itself well within the region. All Afghan neighbours wish for peace so their borders remain secure and the terror-infested atmosphere does not spill-over.
Pakistan is closely watching the proceedings after making the negotiations possible. China is also keeping a watchful eye and is actively aiding the Kabul regime in training its troops for mountainous warfare indicating that it does not fully trust the ultimate intentions of the Taliban. Both Pakistan and China are concerned about the ongoing CPEC and any trouble on the western borders may create problems for both the countries, particularly Pakistan. The problem becomes difficult when viewed in the backdrop that the US still views Pakistan as an ally but perceives China as an adversary and is wary of CPEC.
It has already become clear that America views Pak-China closeness with intense doubt and also harbours misgivings about CPEC. China has very wisely invited Afghanistan to join CPEC and it will be a good incentive in the longer run. Pakistan needs to convince America that CPEC may be a suitable prop for future relations in the region. It is an economic pull that may be of benefit to Afghanistan that would require rebuilding of its infrastructure.
A serious issue for Pakistan would be the disposal of military equipment now concentrated in Afghanistan. There is a genuine concern that the huge stockpile of weaponry may end up in the hands of extremists. It may also be hogged by tribal warlords who may use it to strengthen their hold in their respective regions of influence. Pakistan may impress upon the Americans that any withdrawal of their troops may be conditioned with proper disposal of military hardware. It may be given to the future Afghan government with strong safeguards so that it is not used for fighting against the countries of the region.
Pakistan also needs to ask for a solution to the issue of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Iran also faces the same issue. Pakistan cannot bear the burden of refugees for all times to come and would certainly require a satisfactory solution of this issue. The resettlement of refugees should be a part of any peaceful solution to the war in Afghanistan. Appropriate financial requirements for refugee resettlement should also be inbuilt in any future peace agreement under the watchful supervision of UNHCR.
The intense tribal rivalry in Afghanistan is also to be addressed as it also affects the tribal matrix of the northwest of Pakistan as well as Balochistan. Pakistan needs to ensure that the Pashtun bogey is not revived by the Pashtun segment of Afghanistan that may be dislodged from power after the dominant faction of Afghan Taliban are made to play a central role. There are many hard liners in Kabul who may exploit such an option.
Pakistan needs to obtain strong guarantees from the western alliance that India will be refrained from exploiting any new dispensation in Kabul.
India has already invested lot of money in Afghanistan particularly on infrastructure projects and there is a genuine fear that it may instill instability in areas bordering Pakistan as has been borne out by its covert activities in Balochistan. This is a serious matter and may affect the future relationship of Pakistan with Afghanistan. TW
Schehram Siddiqi is an industrialist based in Lahore