The most important development in this regard is what the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said during his meeting with Pakistan’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua held recently (18 March 2018) in Kabul.
Gen (retd) Janjua visited Afghanistan on a special invitation from his Afghan counterpart Haneef Atmar. Besides holding talks with President Ashraf Ghani and Mr Atmar, Janjua also met Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) Masoom Stanekzai. The comments made by President Ashraf Ghani were full of hope and very optimistic and could be termed as a breath of fresh air for Pakistan on the part of Afghanistan after a long time. He said: “We have made a sincere and serious offer of peace and together we have to make the best of it by rising beyond past. Let’s not remain prisoners of past and lets secure our future with the aim not to win the war but to end it for which Pakistan should help.” He also invited the Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to visit Afghanistan.
Just about when the US President Donald Trump once again told Pakistan’s prime minister to ‘do more’, Afghan president’s reassuring and heartening words are quite similar to creating new opportunities for establishing harmonious relations between the two countries.
Last week during a seemingly private visit to the United States, PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met with US Vice President Mike Pence. On the desire of the Pakistani PM, the meeting took place at Mike Pence’s home. After the meeting, the White House issued a statement saying: “Vice President Pence reiterated President Trump’s request that the Government of Pakistan must do more to address the continued presence of the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other terrorist groups operating in the country.”
It is worth mentioning that the US has already suspended the coalition support funds (CSF) to Pakistan. It is not only constantly threatening Pakistan but also it is on America’s behest that Pakistan has, last month, been put on a ‘grey list’ by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as a result of which Islamabad will have to face new economic problems. If, in this backdrop, the Afghan leadership is expressing its willingness to resolve the issues with Pakistan by sitting together in a positive atmosphere then the need is to immediately take serious steps to make forward movement in this regard so that America is left with no so-called excuse to issue threatening statements on this basis of such matters.
The US has also begun to once more increase the number of its forces in Afghanistan. Presently, more than thirteen thousand American soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan and this is more than present in any other country across the globe. On the other hand, terror outfit Daesh (also known as ISIS, ISIL or IS) is increasing its influence in the north of Afghanistan. I believe that the Afghan leadership is realizing the gravity of this emerging situation. ISIS terrorists are becoming active in Afghanistan under the patronage of Washington, and surely the Afghan leadership is conscious of this reality in a better way. In order to make the situation better, it is imperative to improve Pak-Afghan ties besides taking other measures. Serious efforts towards achieving peace in the region can be made by building trust between the two countries. Pakistan is also very sensitive to the growing threat of ISIS in Afghanistan.
The situation can better be understood in the background of an olive branch recently extended by the Afghan president to the Taliban. He put forth a proposal during February 28 international conference held in Kabul. The initiative was aimed at setting up a platform for peace negotiations with the Taliban. Proposing the recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group, he had said that the group could take part in general elections as a political party after suspending fighting. The aim behind Ashraf Ghani’s peace overture was to create an atmosphere of trust.
There is no doubt that Pakistan’s NSA Lt Gen (retd) Janjua played a big part in bringing the matters to this level. Other important countries in the region including Russia, China and Iran have also expressed their concern over the growing influence of ISIS in Afghanistan. China has already responded to President Trump’s anti-Pakistan statements and said that Islamabad’s efforts to curb terrorism should be acknowledged.
The United States itself has also recognized Pakistan’s certain complaints including presence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in Afghanistan, border management and the problems Pakistan is facing because of Afghan refugees. But Washington’s such admissions are synonymous with adopting a few conciliatory tones after making some antagonistic and threatening statements and that is way President Trump’s message of ‘do more’ was delivered to the Pakistani PM through Mike Pence.
Meanwhile, the Afghan leadership is also compelled to understand that the continued presence of foreign forces in the country is the main reason of acrimony and bitterness. It is aware that the Taliban are justifying their actions principally on the basis of American troops’ presence, and the Taliban are viewing the current Afghan government as actually being America’s henchman in the country. In these circumstances, if the Afghan government, the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan are coming close to each other on a political framework to resolve the issues, it will be considered a big breakthrough. In this regard, it is very important that Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua, during his recent trip to Kabul, appealed the Afghan Taliban to accept the peace plan presented by Afghanistan. For this to happen, Pakistan will have to use its influence to convince the Afghan Taliban to come to negotiation table.
Despite being hopeful about the development, we should not expect that a quick and dramatic change will take place because the enemies of peace will continue to hatch plots in the face of those aspiring for peace and harmony to prevail. The need is to move forward gradually with careful thought and wisdom.