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August 25, 2019

Closer to peace?


August 25, 2019

The ninth round of talks since October last year between representatives of the Taliban and a US delegation led by the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has taken place in Doha in Qatar. The process has been continuing for months and aims to reach a point where the US will agree to pull out the most of the 14,000 military personnel it still has deployed on the ground in Afghanistan, in exchange for a Taliban commitment that they will not use or allow the country to be used by other extremist forces for terrorist attacks. There is some lack of certainty about how the Taliban would be made to keep their pledge. But once this point is reached, Taliban representatives could agree to talk directly to the Afghan government. They have refused to do that so far, terming the administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani a puppet setup controlled and run by the US. For domestic reasons, Washington is anxious to be able to announce a major pullback from Afghanistan by November this year, when the next presidential campaign gets underway.

In all this, Pakistan has been entrusted with playing the role of mediator and assisting in bringing the Taliban to the talks table. On Thursday, during the latest round of talks, General Scott Miller, the commander of the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, was also present at the meeting in the Qatari capital. After the session, a spokesman for the Taliban said the peace deal was ‘near’ but gave no further details. We have heard similar words for some weeks. President Donald Trump is eager to remove troops from Afghanistan, but then also recently went on to say that Washington was capable of wiping out the country but did not want to kill 10 million people. Naturally, that would not go down well with the Afghans.

In the current situation, peace in Afghanistan would be very significant to the region. Pakistan is already locked in an increasingly acrimonious tussle with its neighbour to the east India over Kashmir and the unfortunate events unfolding there. Analysts argue that our role in Afghanistan is a key reason why the US wishes to keep relations with Islamabad good. But we hope that all leaders and all stakeholders will correct their myopia and look a little further at the larger picture, at the hopes and dreams of people in the region, and realise that real benefit in development can take place only if there is peace and an end to extremism in Afghanistan.

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