Pakistan-brokered Afghan reconciliation process, suspended last July, seems to be well on its way to resumption. While ‘quadrilateral framework’ talks among Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China are scheduled for the first week of January to work out a comprehensive road map for the peace negotiations, Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif arrived in Kabul on Sunday for a day-long visit to discuss the issues of mutual concern and prepare the ground for intra-Afghan talks.
All involved, except perhaps for the Taliban, are anxious to resolve the conflict. The US President Barack Obama wants to get over and done with the Afghan conflict before his term in office ends in less than a year’s time. The Kabul government is in no position to vanquish the Taliban.
In fact, although winter months are normally quiet fighting-wise, in a bid to negotiate from a position of strength the Taliban are on the offensive, making significant gains, even though briefly, first in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan and during the recent days in the southern Helmand province’s strategically located Sangin district. And Pakistan, of course, has its own worries about the TTP insurgents using neighboring Afghan provinces as a base to carry out cross-border attacks.
Political settlement of the conflict, hence, has assumed urgency. The negotiations process is likely to move along in fits and starts. Pakistan needs to remove the existing mistrust of its intentions that exist in a section of the Kabul government as well as opinion leaders. President Ghani has been facing resistance for trying to improve relations with Pakistan.
Only recently Rahmatullah Nabil, chief of the Afghan spy agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS), resigned over differences with President Ghani’s policy of working closely with Pakistan, saying it supports anti-government elements in Afghanistan. Given the atmosphere in Kabul, it is good to note that the decisions coming out of General Sharif’s meetings with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah show unanimity on vital issues.
Most notably, the two sides agreed that ‘reconcilable’ Taliban elements would be engaged while the others would be dealt with “in a mutually agreed” manner. And further that “options to take action” against such elements were discussed. In other words, those unwilling to make peace will not be tolerated.
Equally important, they also resolved to address Pakistan concerns regarding TTP militants’ presence in Afghanistan. In the past, the Afghan NDS had not only refused to share intelligence’s with its Pakistan counterpart, it was suspected of even providing encouragement to insurgents like Mullah Fazlullah. Although CoAS Sharif’s border management proposal to control movement across the border failed to find favor in Kabul due to complexities involved, the two sides agreed to effectively deal with “any elements crossing over and getting involved in violence on either side.” For that a hot line is to be set up between the two countries directors-general of military operations.
Under normal circumstance, this would not have sat well with the sensitivities of Pakistan’s regional rival. But at this point in time, all interested outsiders, apparently, have come to the realization that peace is not only what the Afghan people need; it is in the interest of the entire neighborhood as well as the wider world to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a sanctuary for violent extremists.