February 15, 2019 | Daily Times

Respectable Mr President

Following nearly four decades of war, Afghanistan may be at the cusp of an extremely critical juncture of history. The tedious efforts for ending the conflict appear to be getting serious, albeit with usual, though not unexpected, hiccups. But the US-Taliban talks – supported by all major regional stakeholders – could not have come thus far had it not been for your own contribution towards conflict resolution in many ways and you deserve undiluted credit for it.

Firstly, you risked your political career by stepping into Pakistan’s mighty General Headquarters on November 14, 2014, in the hope of getting peace for Afghanistan.

Secondly, you displayed unprecedented courage and political acumen to attend the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad in December 2015 (despite strong opposition from within the National Unity government).

Thirdly, you are indeed the undisputed author of the landmark three-day ceasefire (June 2018) that silenced guns across Afghanistan and allowed all Afghans embrace one another without the fear of a deadly ambush or a suicide attack (by Taliban). This hold in fire indeed ignited – for the first time – hopes that such an across-the-board meeting of Afghan minds is possible.

Fourthly, Mr President, you belong to only a handful of Afghan leaders of the modern day Afghanistan, including, of course, your predecessor Hamid Karzai. Both of you are meanwhile an indelible asset for the dominant majority of the conflict-fatigued and peace-craving Afghans. They are all looking up to you for a way out of the bloodshed.

Fifth, the progress that the Afghan women witnessed under your presidency also vouches for the wisdom of an academic and technocrat who considers women as an essential element of national progress.

The list of your initiatives is long but the aforementioned points alone are more than enough to underscore your importance and your continued relevance to the peace process.

As Taliban – who have transitioned from a so-called ‘haraam’ (forbidden) entity into a ‘halaal’ (kosher) interlocutor for the US and for the NUG – slug it out with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad for an end to hostilities, it is for statesmen like yourself to seize the opportunity and inject positivity into the process.

It will be a great contribution to the quest for peace if you could reign in some people within NUG and stop them from spewing venom against your near ‘enemy’ i.e. Pakistan. The continued blame-game has only vitiated the atmosphere and stalled progress even on bilaterally agreed initiatives such as the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS).

All major stakeholders, including the United States, China and Russia, seem to have, meanwhile, realized that events have overtaken the Afghan anger directed at the ‘near enemy’ and recognized Pakistan as the linchpin for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Mr President, no doubt, Pakistan has had its shortcomings, often driven and shaped by geopolitical considerations. But to treat it as a pre-programmed robot is a flawed approach. Robots remain indifferent to the happenings around them but the security institutions in Pakistan have certainly evolved and are eager more than anybody else to extricate Afghanistan and its periphery from the bloody cycle of violence.

In case you were finally able to establish a reliable, trust-based bilateral relationship with your unavoidable neighbour Pakistan, diluting the foreign-fed anti-Pakistan narratives in Afghan discourse, you will add perhaps the biggest contribution to the long list of your achievements.

There is no way both neighbours can coerce each other through interior or exterior influences. Bilateral engagement is the only way forward. And Pakistan’s entire leadership seems ready behind the strong national desire to overcome the inertia of the past 70 years to take the relationship into an arena of partnership and friendship.

It is time to reap dividends of a process that took nearly 17 years to unfold. Now that the signs of an end to the conflict have begun emerging, and apparent struggle for sharing the spoils of war is underway, it requires the sagacity and forbearance of a statesman like you to remove stumbling blocks and demolish walls in the way of peace in Afghanistan.

Mr President, it is time to seize the opportunity for the good of everybody.

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