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In the right direction




By Imtiaz Gul

Express Tribune, Feb 26, 2015


As of now, Pakistan-Afghan relations are currently undergoing an unprecedented transformation, manifest in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s latest phone call to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Ghani not only thanked Sharif for sending Army chief General Raheel Sharif to Afghanistan” but also apprised him of the impending talks with the Taliban.

Ostensibly, Ghani and Pakistani leaders are also wary of detractors who may try to vitiate the air through media leaks and conspiracies about the impending talks. This way, he resonated the concerns which General Sharif expressed last week in Kabul.

Both Ghani and the Pakistani civil-military leadership fear that proponents of the former Northern Alliance — heavily represented in the Afghan security establishment, including Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan’s former intelligence chief — could keep undermining the reconciliation process through their rhetorical posturing, as witnessed at a recent conference in Geneva.

As usual Saleh not only painted Pakistan in black but even decried China for “pushing us to talk to Taliban terrorists.” It’s ironic indeed that China is asking us to make peace with the Taliban while it is cracking down on the (Chinese Taliban) associated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist group, the former Afghan intelligence chief argued. He also wondered why pressure is being exerted on nuclear Pakistan which supports the Taliban terrorists.

A Chinese official present on the occasion shot back to tell Saleh that Beijing was only trying to facilitate intra-Afghan reconciliation in Afghanistan. Don’t call it a surrender to terrorists. The Taliban are your people and your president, Ashraf Ghani, has been requesting the world community for help in reaching out to the insurgent group.

Pakistani delegates also pointed out that most conflicts do culminate in reconciliation. Diplomatic circles in Islamabad, Washington and even in Kabul, meanwhile, agree that China has, for several reasons, emerged as the most-neutral arbiter in the Afghan peace process.

Firstly, Washington apparently succeeded in convincing Beijing that it is taking the backseat in the peace process and that is why China agreed to chair the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan.

Secondly, China decided to lead the Afghan reconciliation after realising that peace there was integral to regional peace and commerce and that it has to assume some lead responsibility too.

Thirdly, China enjoys the goodwill of Afghans because it has not been a “combatant” in Afghanistan. Fourthly, China, as part of its push for a regional approach to Afghanistan, is also not averse to an active Indian role in Afghanistan and wouldn’t like to see Indo-Pakistan rivalry overshadow the peace efforts. Fifth, with China in the lead role, the Pakistan-bashers in Kabul would have little reason to be apprehensive of any mischief from either side.

Clearly, all stakeholders appear to be moving in the ‘right’ direction to secure peace in Afghanistan with China as the common most neutral denominator.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk