Home South Asia Afghanistan Can Pakistan bring back Afghan Taliban to the table?

Can Pakistan bring back Afghan Taliban to the table?

News Desk |

Pakistan is  increasing pressure upon Taliban to return to the negotiation table with the US. Zalmay Khalilzad is expecting to meet Afghan Taliban in Islamabad after deadlock in Riyadh and Doha. Rustam Shah Mohmand, leading expert on Afghan affairs explained in a TV program.

Pakistan’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand, argued that Taliban are under pressure; the US exerts pressure on Pakistan and Pakistan faithfully transmits that pressure on the Taliban instead of negotiating with the US to rationalize the situation.

“Pakistan has the option to coerce Taliban through exerting pressure on the Taliban leaders who live in Pakistan”. Former Ambassador made these statements while talking to prominent anchorperson Dr. Moeed Pirzada on his prime-time show “Live with Moeed Pirzada” at GNN television on Thursday, Jan 17.

“In past India approved construction of the Mangla Dam in Mirpur Azad Kashmir, why India had any reservations on it at that time while they are objecting on CPEC now?” Dr. Pirzada inquired from the Ambassador.

“The United States has 9 military bases, (4 are large bases and 5 small air bases) in Afghanistan. The US wants to vacate these bases and two ports; on which the Taliban agree”, but it wants to maintain some bases, said Rustum Shah Mohmand.

Ambassador also said, “The Kabul government is exerting pressure on the US not to leave them alone while engaging with the Taliban”.

Since the last direct meeting with the US, in Abu Dhabi, in the third week of December, Afghan Taliban have been refusing to come to the negotiation table. They withdrew from the round of talks in Riyadh, expected in January and their spokesman accused that both Saudi Arabia and UAE are forcing them to sit face to face with the Kabul government of President Ashraf Ghani. Later they did not participate in a hurriedly planned meeting in Doha, Qatar, citing the same reasons. It thus remains to be seen whether Pakistan will make renewed efforts and pressure tactics to yield any positive results and prompt the Taliban to engage directly with Kabul.

“Taliban fear that direct talks with Kabul government will not go well with their field cadres” Ambassador Rustam Shah explained. He added that Taliban have been refusing to accept the Kabul governments for the past 14 years, they see the United States at the real power in Afghanistan and the Kabul government as only a proxy of the US.

Read more: Pakistan rules out India’s role in Afghan peace process

Hafiz Mohibullah, a senior military commander who has been closely involved in talks with the United States, was arrested in Peshawar on Jan 14 this year, close to the border with Afghanistan, but was subsequently released on Wednesday. Pakistani newspapers – including the respected Dawn – has described this as Pakistani attempts to force Taliban to the negotiation table. Rustam Shah agreed that Afghan Taliban are in a tight corner as all their supporters – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE – are forcing them to take to the US and the Kabul government.

When asked about the upcoming presidential elections of Afghanistan, Mr. Rustum Shah Mohmand said that no clear stance of Taliban about the presidential elections has appeared yet.

“The construction of dams was allowed on the basis of Indus water treaty but the CPEC case is different from that”, said Ambassador Rustam.

Commenting on the goals of India in Afghanistan, the Ambassador said that India has many goals in Afghanistan, “India wants to reach Central Asia through Afghanistan to reap benefits from the hydrocarbon sources of Central Asia. India has also invested in the Chabahar port in Iran to reach Central Asia”

“Then why India refuses to respond to Pakistani and Chinese offers to become part of CPEC?” a visibly surprised Anchor asked Rustam Shah Mohmand. Ambassador argued that India claims that CPEC is passing through disputed territory of Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and considers that accepting the route of CPEC tantamount to legitimizing Pakistani hold on GB.

“But, in past India approved construction of the Mangla Dam in Mirpur Azad Kashmir, (the same disputed territory), if India did not have any reservations on it at that time then why they are objecting on CPEC now?” Moeed Pirzada inquired from the Ambassador. “The construction of dams was allowed on the basis of Indus Water Treaty but the CPEC case is different from that”, said Ambassador Rustam.

Most analysts in Pakistan however see it differently. Gilgit Baltistan areas (now with the status of a province, GB) was liberated by Gilgit Scouts who rebelled, against Maharaja Hari Singh, under their English Commander, Major Brown and declared an alliance with the new state of Pakistan in 1947/48 before the Jammu and Kashmir’s controversial accession with India in October 1948. India never showed much interest in Gilgit Baltistan (or for that matter even in Azad Kashmir) till the emergence of Karakorum Highway in late 1960’s much celebrated by the Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in early 1970’s.

India has often tried to use Azad Kashmir (referred to as POK by Indian media) as a counter-chip to counter balance Pakistani claims on Indian held Kashmir. But most Pakistani, Indian and international historians and observers agreed that India was never much interested in these areas. India’s renewed interest in Gilgit Baltistan emerged once CPEC route and its scope became clear. India perceives CPEC as a game changer in the region. CPEC provides economic autonomy to Pakistan.

TV Anchor, Moeed Pirzada, in several of his programs and blogs had himself argued that before the emergence of CPEC, India had successfully sold the narrative to the US and western world that Pakistan has no economic future except dependence upon Indian economy. Many  Pakistani analysts and media commentators had bought this argument. Campaigns like “Aman Ki Asha” also carried the same subliminal message. CPEC, with its far reaching scope, thus shattered this narrative, because Pakistanis and the world at large could see that Pakistani land mass has its own peculiar options.

Read more: Who will control Afghanistan?

Ambassador Rustam Shah however argued that India becomes a stake holder in Afghan peace process because it has significant goodwill in Afghanistan. Responding to Anchor that does that support extend to Taliban, Ambassador said that some Taliban groups may also be positive about India.

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