April 26, 2017
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Afghan peace process can check growth of terrorism
For a change, Pakistan is taking a very bold step to host a quadrilateral meeting on Afghan peace process in February. Although similar initiatives have been going on for some time, each time the final result has set an abysmal record for itself due to lack of political will and coherence. Often, the interests of state and vested interests within the military and elsewhere have succeeded in creating a deep mistrust. Even during peace talks there have been instances in which Taliban leaders were killed in fake ambush after being invited for talks. Now, there is another dichotomy to this in addition to what is going on in this theatre by a slew of stake holders that Pakistan military has also some friendly groups within the realm of conflict in Afghanistan. Now, the question comes if the peace process warrants these elements to surrender or eliminated at some stage, then whether Pakistani military establishment will allow this to happen. It appears that Nawaz Sharief Government has this time taken some calculation into this factor as how its own military will react. It is a separate story whether there will be any meaningful dialogue this time. This will be the third round of talks in the Pakistani capital. There is no point in finding what happened in the past. Otherwise, past will over shadow the present and hence affect the mood about the future. The key point however emerges that whether Pakistani military and political leadership can forge a coherent view on the topic. There is no good Taliban or bad Taliban, yet peace is important.

Everybody is desperate for peace but the outcome of each failed talks has eluded peace farther. While one should be hopeful for a new beginning Pakistan must realize that stake holders of Afghan peace process is not confining to four parties only. Till yesterday China was never inclined to join the Afghan peace process but it is good that Islamabad has roped in Beijing for the purpose. Indeed, China is investing in Afghanistan in a big way and quite anxious about the strategic development in the region due to its emerging geopolitical interests. The China-Pakistan axis is creating an economic corridor which can see 100 billion dollar trade prospect in future. While China is ensuring a trouble free energy security corridor from Persian Gulf via PoK, there is also a growing interest to exploit hydro carbon basins of Central Asia and rediscover ancient Silk Route through Afghanistan. This can uplift the sagging economy of China which is facing massive complications. On the top of it, this gives a fresh window to Pakistan which is looking for a new partner in this venture after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. If China gets into this theatre the outcome may be positive. Yet, greed can play havoc if not managed properly. Since China is aspiring for a global role, it is difficult to predict whether it will tolerate any NATO or US presence in Afghanistan. Going by past assessments, in recent time, Beijing is not comfortable in an axis in which the US plays a major role. Therefore, Pakistan’s game plan to include Afghanistan, China and US in the upcoming talk on Afghan peace process may face a dual front threat. One threat may emerge from its own military establishment which could be selective in its approach while dealing with various groups, another problem could be great power rivalry in case the US feels sidelined.

On the top of it, Pakistani initiative on Afghan peace process should at some stage include India, Iran, Russia and Central Asian states to make it a lasting one and viable at least in the long run. If it confines to only few then others will watch it with suspicion. Iran has already expressed its reservations about the sincerity of Pakistani military in containing cross border violence inside Afghan territory. Similarly, India always feels Pakistan needs to act strongly against such groups. If China is given extra preference as it might suit Pakistani geopolitical game plan, then it will create heartburn among American policy makers who could see it a special design to kick out US. Overall, Pakistani initiative is a good move but it needs more clarity and wise steps. If Afghanistan remains unstable then there will be no peace in the whole region. This will badly affect Pakistan’s own survival in a big way. Although some political leaders in Pakistan realize this trend, others have their own agenda to push for. By creating a proxy theatre in Afghanistan, some Pakistani military leaders may feel safe or have a cushion that war should be fought inside enemy territory. But the growth of terrorism in Afghanistan, once it crosses the manageable limit, can hurt Pakistan terribly. This is visible every now and then. There was a time when it was thought by Pakistani military leaders that all such groups can be managed. Time has proven wrong. In many occasions some of the unfriendly groups have targeted Pakistani military interests, including their children. So, there is a need to check the surge now at a time when outside groups such as ISIS are trying to secure a base in Afghanistan. The heat in Syria and Iraq is going to affect IS sooner or later. Then they may shift to Afghanistan. That can be dangerous.