Pakistan has greatest influence on Taliban: Af-Pak envoy

ISLAMABAD: Acknowledging Pakistan’s “supportive role”, the US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan James Dobbins said on Tuesday that Pakistan does wield significant influence over the Taliban.

Speaking at the US embassy after talks with the Pakistan leadership during the day, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the ambassador said that Pakistan had expressed its commitment to continue its support and to use its influence in the Afghan peace process.

“I don’t think anybody controls the Taliban, but I think Pakistan probably has the greatest influence.”

Dobbins though clarified he said he believes Pakistan does not have a controlling influence on the Taliban, but does enjoy more influence than others.

The envoy also sought to allay Pakistan’s apprehensions it will be abandoned following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. “History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, and I think we have learnt some lessons too.”

“We have achieved a fairly stable and positive level and I anticipate we will expand that cooperation.”

Taliban office

Dobbins spoke about the dispute over the Taliban office in Qatar which has threatened to scupper the delicately crafted window to speak peace over Afghanistan.

The dispute arose after the Taliban put up a plaque of “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and the white flag at their Doha office, which did not go well first with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and then the US government with the office being seen as a Taliban government in exile.

The envoy said that the United States was the first to react and informed the government of Qatar that it was inconsistent with the assurances given to it before the initiation of talks. He termed the office as a “misunderstanding” and an attempt by the Taliban to “stage a propaganda coup in an exaggerated manner.”

Dobbins said the US then asked for the signs to be removed. “This has been done. We are waiting to see if they [Taliban] are willing to engage.”

Taliban can’t roll clock back

Even as the US gears up for bringing the Taliban back into mainstream by talking with the Taliban, given they are “still a significant military force”, Dobbins ruled out that the group that ruled Afghanistan prior to 2001, would be able to make things as they were once before.

However, he did predict that the situation may get worse once the US troops pull out.

The situation could only get slightly worse Dobbins said, before adding that there was already a civil war in the country, but it could not get worse like in the 90s.

“Afghanistan has changed in fairly fundamental ways that make it difficult for it to get back to a decade or more,” he said and mentioned the large number of schools, hospitals, paved roads and other basic facilities that did now exist in the country.

“They [Taliban] can’t roll the clock back.”