A series of allegations and counter-allegations is going on between Islamabad and Kabul over the issue of continuing insurgency by the Afghan Taliban. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has accused Pakistan of providing shelter to the Taliban. Ghani has termed the Taliban leaders hiding in the western Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta “slaves and enemies of Afghanistan who shed the blood of their countrymen.” He also urged Islamabad to take out these extremist leaders. Though Pakistan has repeatedly denied aiding the Taliban, yet Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, once admitted that Islamabad has considerable influence over the Taliban “…because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities. Their families are here.” On the other hand, the Taliban are not showing any interest in the reconciliation process mooted by the multilateral group (Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China), while the National Unity Government in Afghanistan is in disarray. Not only the tandem between President Ghani, and the chief executive officer, Abdullah Abdullah, is hampering governance, but there is also a persistent constitutional deadlock.
In this situation, Pakistan’s cooperation assumes great importance — perhaps, more than ever — to bring the war to an end. Peace and stability in Afghanistan are critical for the entire region, and achieving that goal is in the interests of all countries who have directly or indirectly suffered because of the Afghan war. Internal divisions within Afghanistan’s government also act as a roadblock in the peace process, while Pakistan’s credibility as a peacemaker is questionable. The fact that is not being acknowledged is the presence of the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil, from where they have a safe haven to pursue their operations inside Afghanistan. Only if Pakistan gives up its duality of policies in favour of positive actions on the ground will we see meaningful headway in this crucial peace process.
Over the past decade it has been clear that the Afghanistan government simply does not have the strength and wherewithal to engage with the Taliban without the backing of foreign powers, or else this four-country process would not have been required. It is not a secret that there are deep divisions, mistrust and conflicting ideologies within the Afghan polity on multiple fronts, especially when it comes to security issues. The presidency of Ashraf Ghani has been riddled with strife, as the National Unity Government itself is factional; many within the military and intelligence are opposed to the prospect of peace talks and view Pakistan’s involvement with suspicion. As far as the Taliban themselves are concerned, their frequency of attacks within Afghanistan is increasing as they are becoming more and more audacious. Not only does this rising tide of attacks make the prospect of negotiations more unpopular for elements within Afghanistan, the Taliban’s rationale for this upturn in violence can either be a realisation within certain ‘irreconcilable’ factions that the Afghan security forces are weak or that the foreign powers lack the political will to continue militarily, so the time is right to press their advantage and go for broke. All these factors contribute to an ominous scenario that despite concerted efforts of multiple countries to find solutions for short and long term peace in Afghanistan, the prospects for a breakthrough are bleak. And yet there is no other way out except a political solution, or Afghanistan will continue to suffer from a perpetual civil war. And for the people of Afghanistan, a peaceful country without the shadow of death will remain nothing but an impossible dream.