Opportunity Knocks

The evolving and unfolding Afghan situation offers an opportunity for resolution of a long drawn out and seemingly intractable conflict. This opportunity is too good to ignore and it is not going to be there for long because there are powerful actors who thrive in the on-going conflict situation and would like to continue thriving. Over three decades of conflict has created warlords, drug barons, weapons smugglers, militant groups and their leaders all with their own interests and with well-established channels to do what they need to do in their own interest.

The present opportunity has come because the men at the scene of action have taken an initiative in the interest of their respective countries. On the Afghan side the men are President Ashraf Ghani, the Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar, the Interior Minister Wais Barmak and the Intelligence Chief Masum Stanekzai.

On the Pakistan side the men are the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the National Security Adviser Lt Gen (retired) Janjua and the ISI chief Lt General Naveed Mukhtar. On the US side there are Mike Pompeo the Secretary of State, Lisa Curtis at the National Security Council and General Nicholson the US Commander in Afghanistan.

The work by all these people has produced the Afghan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) that envisages high level contacts, intelligence sharing, coordination of actions, liaison centers and ground coordination centers for implementation of an agenda that will deliver peace in Afghanistan, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and stop the terrorism and violence that comes from uncontrolled and ungoverned spaces. This work in progress needs to be taken forward till it reaches conclusion.

President Ghani has claimed credit for the attack that killed the TTP leader and he should be given credit and thanked. The US must also be thanked for their positive role. Both the US Secretary of State and Lisa Curtis have given encouraging signals. Curtis has said that the US could participate in talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in response to the Taliban insistence for direct talks between them and the US.

President Ghani has for the first time hinted that ‘foreign forces in Afghanistan” could be discussed. Pakistan is fully on board as is evident from the ongoing high level discussions with both the US and Afghanistan. The short lived cease fire in Afghanistan, though disrupted by ISIS attacks in Kabul, is also an encouraging development. The Taliban’s return to violence is probably driven by the fear of fragmentation if their momentum falters or their men see alternatives to fighting and dying or if the APAPPS initiative collapses.

Like ‘the ghosts of Christmases past’ that haunted Scrooge there are the ‘has-beens’ who make a living out of analyses and dispensing wisdom. These are the spoilers who are obsessed with scapegoating Pakistan for all the failures in Afghanistan and its descent into the chaos highlighted in a recent SIGAR report.

They see nothing right in Afghanistan and are critical of everything that the NUG (Afghan National Unity Government) does in the interest of peace in its country. They create uncertainties about US intentions in Afghanistan and they work round the clock on several tracks to make US-Pakistan and Pakistan-Afghanistan relations problematic by constantly dwelling on the past and ignoring the present and the future.

The determined and resolute implementation of the APAPPS must transcend the hurdles created by these spoilers and by the actions of groups like the IS and TTP who need their own space in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban have never even hinted at an agenda outside Afghanistan or any ambition beyond freeing their country of foreign occupation in any form.

The thrust to give them a significant place at the dialogue table and to consider their demands and concerns is the best way forward for the US, for Afghanistan and for Pakistan. The opportunity must be seized and exploited and not frittered away.

Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual.

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