Fahad Ali describes the latest negotiations between Pakistan and Afghanistan
Pak-China-Afghan Parleys – Pakistan has been made to guess the intention of the Afghan Taliban regime lording over Afghanistan since the last year and a half and most of the time the assessment proved unpredictable causing plenty of acrimony between both the neighbours. Pakistani policy makers pinned lot of hope on the Afghan Taliban taking power in Afghanistan but it did not happen as the Afghan regime has other designs. The regime steadfastly refused to restrain the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and its allied groups from carrying out terrorist attacks in Pakistan. It also turned its eyes the other way when these terrorist groups used Afghanistan as their sanctuary after committing terrorist activities in Pakistan. Pakistan kept on persuading the Afghan regime to put an end to this duplicitous conduct but it just did not pay any heed to Pakistani remonstrations. The result was a terrible spike in acts of terrorism in Pakistan in which many lives were lost. The focus of such activities was the security forces and police and the aim appeared to fluster their morale. Pakistan was trying to bring the Afghan regime to the negotiating table with a view to iron out any difference that may exist but the intransigence of the Afghan Taliban made it almost impossible for any parleys to materialise.
However, after considerable interlocution of the Chinese government the Afghan Taliban finally agreed to confer with the Pakistani government and there ensued a trilateral foreign ministers dialogue in Islamabad attended by Pakistani, Afghani and Chinese foreign ministers. Muttaqi has been subjected to travel bans, asset freezes, and arms embargoes under the Sec¬u¬rity Council sanctions for a long time. A UN Sec¬u¬rity Council committee agreed on 1 May to allow him to travel during 6-9 May for the meeting on a req¬uest from Pakistan’s UN mission. Since its launch in 2017, the trilateral dialogue mechanism has become an important platform for the three countries to enhance understanding and deepen mutual trust and cooperation. The dialogue this time took place at a time when cross-border attacks from Afghanistan are on the rise. The dialogue also brought to the fore China’s growing desire to be seen as a regional and global peacemaker, as Beijing seeks to deploy its brand of diplomacy in trouble spots across the world. As was very obvious the parleys were dominated by counterterrorism matters with Pakistan and China gently reminding the Afghan side that more work had to be done to ensure Afghanistan did not become a haven for terrorist groups. All three foreign ministers pledged to enhance counterterrorism cooperation. For Pakistan, the presence of militant groups such as the banned TTP in Afghanistan is a major concern, one that has been communicated to Kabul on multiple occasions.
On the other hand, China is also wary of militants using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Just last month, its foreign ministry, pinpointing its concerns about the Uyghur militant group, observed that Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) forces in Afghanistan pose a severe threat to the security of China and in fact, to the entire region. It is very evident that Pakistan, China and other regional states must continue to pressure the Taliban to ensure terrorist groups find no refuge on Afghan soil and the Taliban must be told again and again that expanded trade links and their engagement with the international community will suffer unless these groups are reined in. It was also emphasised that taking steps aimed at curbing terrorism is the need of the hour for Afghanistan as after decades of instability and war, Afghani people need an atmosphere free of militancy where they can rebuild their country and bring prosperity to millions who currently depend on the kindness of the international community to keep starvation at bay. It is therefore expected that the pragmatic and prudent elements within the ranks of the ruling Kabul regime would prevail upon the hard line elements and convince them that Afghanistan can only advance when all Afghans, including the female population, have a say in governance.
Afghan foreign minister Muttaqi came on a visit to Pakistan and emphasised that he has impressed upon the Pakistani government and the TTP to sit together and find a solution to these problems on their own. It was in a way a riposte to the recent assertion of the incumbent Pakistani government clearly pointing out that the recent wave of terrorism in Pakistan was a result of the soft corner and the absence of a well-thought-out policy against the banned TTP. The recent surge in terrorism in Pakistan is concerned with the outcome of the failure of Kabul-hosted talks between the TTP and the Pakistan government resulting in an end to the ceasefire among them in November last year consequently the outlawed group ordered its militants to stage attacks across Pakistan. In line with his government’s stance, Afghan foreign minister also denied that the TTP was using Afghan soil though there are obvious signs of it along with required proofs.
The 5th session of the trilateral foreign ministers parleys was also attended by the Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang with the Afghani FM reiterating that all three sides had agreed that no country will allow its ground and airspace to be used against each other. The fact that the Chinese foreign minister visited Pakistan shows Islamabad and Beijing’s keen interest to ensure peace and prosperity in the region. The development attains significance when seen in the backdrop of China’s role as Beijing has recently successfully worked to bring bitter rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia closer. The deliberations also contained economic matters as it was pointed out that Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed to increase their bilateral trade up to $3 billion from the present figure of nearly $1.1 billion. The Afghani side specifically alluded to the economic ties by stating that with connectivity, trade, and transit at the core of this outreach there is a significant regional interest in economically connecting Central Asia, via Afghanistan, to South Asia and beyond. It was reported that Muttaqi had also held a meeting with Pakistani politicians where the participants stressed the need for nations and governments of the two countries to be closer and for free travel between countries to be facilitated. Muttaqi mentioned that the restriction on education for women and girls in Afghanistan was not permanent and would remain in place until Afghan government’s next order as the Taliban regime does not consider women’s education un-Islamic.
The trilateral dialogue was followed by the 4th round of Sino-Pak strategic dialogue in which the Chinese minister had underscored the importance of the longstanding strategic relationship between the two countries and expressed satisfaction over CPEC’s progress while reiterating his country’s commitment to its timely completion. The Chinese foreign minister expressed his country’s readiness to support Afghanistan in its economic reconstruction and expressed the hope that the interim Afghan government would embrace inclusive governance and moderate policies while maintaining friendly relations with its neighbours. He also urged the international community to take concrete actions to help the Afghan people and alleviate their sufferings. He assured that China will continue to support Pakistan in maintaining foreign exchange and financial stability, especially during challenges like geopolitical conflicts, international turbulence and natural disasters. The Weekender
Fahad Ali is associated with maritime trade