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EDITORIAL: At the end of his week-long visit to Washington, the National Security Adviser, Moeed Yusuf, didn’t have anything concrete in terms of Washington’s trust in Pakistan’s policy decision to remain neutral in the Afghan imbroglio to report. Though both sides did agree “to work in multiple domains including climate change, health and Covid-19, and commerce and investment,” but in a presser following the end of his visit he did not say whether the US too would remain neutral. His assertion that “peace in Afghanistan is not our weakness, rather our strength” tends to suggest that there are certain reservations that the US harbours about Pakistan’s role in the ongoing Afghanistan crisis. He asserted that he had told, albeit indirectly, his intermediaries that the only way out of the conundrum is an intra-Afghan peace dialogue and not a battle for defeat of anti-government insurgents. And in this battle, Pakistan has no role, whatsoever. Pakistan and the US, he said, have to work more closely now in the prevailing situation as a security vacuum is being created following withdrawal of the US combat forces from Afghanistan. His position is in line with Pakistan’s claim that, in the words of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the “US really messed it up in Afghanistan” by its hasty withdrawal while intra-Afghan peace process was in progress. If Washington thinks Islamabad can weigh in with Afghan Taliban, Dr Moeed?Yusuf asked Americans to rethink. Perhaps, his hosts also wanted Pakistan to accept the collateral aftermath of civil war in Afghanistan, as it did in the past. Pakistan is no more in a position to bear the burden of refugees, and nor does it want the Afghans to be displaced from their territories. Rightly then, the former ambassador to the US, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, in an op-ed, has opined that the chaotic situation across the border “will provide fertile ground and more space to a host of militant groups to continue operating from there.” And she cited the latest report of UN’s sanctions monitoring team that “the return of splinter groups to the TTP (Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan) has increased its strength,” leading to recent upsurge in violence in Pakistan.

Having heard Washington’s expectations from Islamabad, the National Security Adviser, who was accompanied by the ISI Chief, Lt-General Faiz Hameed throughout the visit, also expressed his expectation. He said India is using the “third soil” (border region of Afghanistan) against Pakistan. Pakistan has already presented a dossier to the international community, spelling out India’s clandestine designs and terror financing against Pakistan. “If the US says we are together in fight against terrorism, why then incidents of terrorism have increased in Pakistan.” This was an apt comment on America’s doublespeak – even when Washington knows that the anti-Pakistan terrorism is funded by India but its regional geostrategic considerations stop it from making this admission - but for how long? There is a momentous surge in Taliban’s strategy: they have begun attacking provincial capitals, as against their earlier stance to control urban areas and to choke border-crossings. Under their attack on Sunday were Kandahar, Herat and Lashkar Gah. Since there were incidents of Afghan National Army men surrendering to Taliban or fleeing to bordering countries, an air action against the insurgents is probably now the only option left for the Afghan government. In fact, that is a new phase of the Afghan conundrum, and it demands a fresh approach to the ongoing peace process. As a first step, the peace interlocutors should make President Ghani rethink his inflexibility on demands made by the Taliban at various forums. He should drop his election bid, order release of Taliban prisoners and help set up an interim government, which in turn should amend the constitution and hold elections. Once that’s done, there would be no reason for the Taliban to keep on fighting for a battleground victory.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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