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Trade replacing terror?

M. Ziauddin

Editorial by: M. Ziauddin

The graveyard of empires is seemingly turning back, rather reluctantly, from a 40-year long civil war that had, until September this year, looked like lasting till the last Afghan. This seems to be happening because the US that had fought its longest war in Afghanistan, perhaps having finally realized that it would go the Soviet way if it continued seeking ‘total’ victory, signed a deal with the Taliban in February to withdraw all foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees.

The Taliban for the first time are speaking to Afghanistan’s government. The talks started September 12 in Doha but almost immediately faltered over disagreements about the agenda, the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations. The Taliban, who are Sunni adherents of the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence would like to follow the allied principles, but government negotiators say this could be used to discriminate against Hazaras, who are predominantly Shiite, and other minorities.

President-elect Joe Biden, in a rare point of agreement with his predecessor, also advocates winding down the 20-year long Afghanistan war although analysts believe he will not insist on a quick timetable.

Despite the peace talks, violence has surged across Afghanistan, with the Taliban stepping up daily attacks against Afghan security forces, perhaps in the hope of capturing as much landmass as possible before the agreement is finalized so as to be able to secure a larger share in the future government. The peace process has so far delivered nothing of substance. A recent United Nations report on civilian casualties found that despite the start of intra-Afghan talks, high levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghani- stan remaining among the deadliest places in the world.

And as Prime Minister Imran Khan said last Thursday during his first-ever visit to Kabul, ‘after the Afghans, Pakistanis have the greatest stake in this peace process’. He said the residents of Pakistan’s tribal areas, “who have suffered the ravages of the war in Afghanistan”, will especially benefit from peace.

The prime minister assured the Afghan leadership of Pakistan’s full cooperation for reduction in violence in Afghanistan as he sought to fix bilateral ties that have for long been weighed down by mutual mistrust.

Pakistan first facilitated by delivering Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban in Afghanistan and deputy of Mullah Mohammed Omar, months-long talks between the US and Taliban, whose successful culmination last February paved the way for intra-Afghan dialogue and later helped the Afghans to settle their differences and start the talks in Doha.

PM Imran Khan’s daylong visit to Kabul has come at a time when a question mark hangs over the fate of the Afghan peace process, and when the US is in the middle of a presidential transition. The latter development has to be considered because it remains to be seen how a Biden White House handles the Afghanistan war, specifically the key question of foreign troops’ exit from the country.

Moreover, there are elements within the Kabul establishment that have no love lost for Pakistan and are constantly blaming this country for Afghanistan’s woes. It is true that Pakistan has some leverage with the Afghan Taliban but blaming this country alone for Afghanistan’s problems is uncalled for.

Foreign forces, primarily America, must ensure that the withdrawal is orderly, while Afghan stakeholders — especially the government and the Taliban — must put in greater efforts for an internal peace deal. A chaotic withdrawal of foreign troops may plunge Afghanistan back into civil war.

More worrying for Pakistan is the ongoing export of terrorism from across the borders by Indian intelligence personnel using their diplomatic cover in the war-torn neighbor. Last week Pakistan made public a dossier containing `irrefutable proof ’ of these activities. Indian intelligence agencies are said to be running 87 terrorists’ camps targeting Pakistan; 66 of the 87 terrorist camps are said to be located in Afghanistan.

No matter who finally holds the whip-hand in Kabul, Pakistan’s national interests dictate that we do everything that is required to convert the Free Terror Area straddling the Durand Line into Free Trade Area to establish a common market enabling the two countries to strive for mutual progress and prosperity on a permanent basis.

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