Pakistan as a bystander
The US-Afghan Taliban deal announced at Doha on Saturday required, inter alia, the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has however refused to implement this part of the agreement. Apparently he wants to keep the prisoners as bargaining chips for extraction of concessions during the intra-Afghan talks scheduled to begin from March 10 in Oslo. But will the talks take place on the date?
As things stand, the truce is practically is in tatters. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has made it known that after the violation of an important clause of the Taliban-US agreement, the period of reduction in violence has ended and operations against the security personnel loyal to the Kabul administration will continue as before, though there would be no attacks on the foreign troops. The Sunday terrorist attack during a football match in Khost shows that the civilian population too would be targeted by the Taliban to build domestic pressure on the Ghani Administration.
As PM Imran Khan has reminded us several times, Pakistan was made part of the Afghan imbroglio against the country’s interest first by Gen Ziaul Haq and then by Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf. In over four decades of involvement Pakistan had to host millions of refugees. The country also lost tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers in terrorist attacks by groups trained in Afghanistan. Despite the sacrifices, there is little to show that we have any role in the endgame in Afghanistan.
In US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Doha address, there was no recognition of Pakistan’s sacrifices or the unique role claimed by the establishment. The country was seen as just one of Afghanistan’s neighbours who were bracketed together for a pat on the back with the reminder that they needed to do more to promote peace. A single line from Taliban negotiator Mullah Bradar noted Pakistan’s efforts, work and assistance. The accord took place in Qatar rather than Islamabad; the intra-Afghan talks will be held in Norway. Distrustful of Pakistan, Kabul is unwilling to resolve its differences with Islamabad bilaterally. It wants mediation by the USA, which has readily accepted the role, leaving Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to lodge an impotent protest. Pakistan has been brought to a cul-de-sac by its ultimate policymakers.