To­wards Afghan peace

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL -

Anew win­dow of op­por­tu­nity seems to have opened for Afghan peace. A meet­ing of the Quadri­lat­eral Co­or­di­na­tion Group (QCG) on the "Afghan Peace and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion" process in its meet­ing last week agreed on a roadmap that will be "stip­u­lat­ing the stages and steps in the process". Specif­i­cally, the four-na­tion group, which in­cludes Afghanistan, Pak­istan, US and China, has de­cided to hold talks with in­sur­gent groups by the end of the month to push for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and end the con­flict in Afghanistan. The main ad­van­tage and strength of the QCG is that all the ma­jor stake­hold­ers - Afghanistan, US and Pak­istan - are part of it. The pres­ence of China in the quadri­lat­eral ar­range­ment is of spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance as Bei­jing has a di­rect stake in peace in the re­gion. Bei­jing's in­ter­est prin­ci­pally lies in ward­ing off the dan­ger of mil­i­tancy spread­ing to the Xin­jiang Uighur Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion.

Since the launch of the Group in De­cem­ber, last week's meet­ing has been de­scribed as the most fruit­ful. Ac­cord­ing to an in­sider re­port, the roadmap em­pha­sizes an equal role for all the mem­bers who will now work on the ba­sis of "shared re­spon­si­bil­ity". This is a wel­come change in ap­proach as pre­vi­ously the onus was mainly on Pak­istan to bring the Tal­iban to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble. But this strat­egy did not suc­ceed be­cause of the deep gulf of mis­trust be­tween Is­lam­abad and Kabul. The ma­jor chal­lenge is how to bring the Tal­iban round to start intra-Afghan talks. Some ob­servers of the Afghan scene are of the opin­ion that it would be very dif­fi­cult to con­vince the Tal­iban as they have not yet given any in­di­ca­tion that they wish to sit face-to-face with the Afghan govern­ment. How­ever, the Tal­iban political ne­go­tia­tors last month sug­gested some con­fi­dence build­ing mea­sures which could pave the way for the start of peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. Th­ese in­clude ac­ti­va­tion of their political of­fice in Qatar, re­moval of travel re­stric­tion and re­lease of pris­on­ers. The Tal­iban also want to talk to the US first to dis­cuss the with­drawal of for­eign forces.

It should not be dif­fi­cult to meet some of th­ese de­mands. For any real progress to­wards a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion, there has to be some vis­i­ble, con­crete ac­tion on Tal­iban de­mands like the scrap­ping of the black lists and re­leas­ing some pris­on­ers. To build trust be­tween the Tal­iban and the Afghan govern­ment, Kabul also needs to con­sider ad­di­tional steps like amend­ing the Afghan Con­sti­tu­tion, for­ma­tion of an in­terim govern­ment com­pris­ing Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives, es­tab­lish­ing a con­sen­sus on the fu­ture gov­er­nance sys­tem, ini­ti­at­ing long-term re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­con­struc­tion in the coun­try and pro­vid­ing tan­gi­ble guar­an­tees for non-in­ter­fer­ence by out­side pow­ers.

One of the main causes of the 14-year-long war in Afghanistan is the mil­i­tary pres­ence of Nato and US forces in the coun­try. Clearly, the exit of all for­eign forces is pred­i­cated on the cre­ation of an en­vi­ron­ment that guar­an­tees peace and sta­bil­ity. That in turn would de­pend on the var­i­ous Afghan fac­tions, in­clud­ing the Tal­iban, com­ing to an agreed con­sen­sus on peace­mak­ing, gov­er­nance sys­tems and main­stream­ing of all those who have fought against the govern­ment or for­eign forces over the past many years. On their part, the Tal­iban will have to pledge not to launch their Spring Of­fen­sive as it will throw a span­ner in the works of the pro­posed talks.

The Pak­istan govern­ment has re­peat­edly made it clear that it stands for a sov­er­eign, united, pros­per­ous, peace­ful Afghanistan which is in the in­ter­est of the en­tire re­gion. For Pak­istan, it is vi­tal that the lat­est peace ini­tia­tive suc­ceeds, as an end to the civil war will bring sta­bil­ity not only in Afghanistan but the re­gion it­self. More sig­nif­i­cantly, a political set­tle­ment in Afghanistan would con­trib­ute greatly to Pak­istan's own fight against ter­ror­ism.

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