Two events that took place at last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit in the Kazakh capital, Astana, should give comfort to Islamabad. One, of course, was that contrary to his declared policy to isolate this country, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to see Pakistan and India together become full members of the SCO. The other more important development was that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a formal meeting on the sidelines of the summit to address security issues undermining mutual trust. According to a Foreign Office statement, “the two leaders agreed to use quadrilateral co-ordination mechanism (by reviving the moribund Afghanistan-Pakistan-US-China Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group) as well as bilateral channels to undertake specific actions against terrorist groups and to evolve, through mutual consultations, a mechanism to monitor and verify such actions.” This appears to be the best solution to deal with repeated Kabul government’s as well as US’s allegations – despite Pakistan denials – that some of the Afghan Taliban groups, particularly the powerful Haqqani network, use sanctuaries in Pakistan to launch attacks into Afghanistan. Pakistan has its own list of TTP terrorists operating on Afghan soil to perpetrate acts of terrorism in this country.
President Ghani’s office in its version of the meeting said “the two leaders agreed that they would take all necessary measures against the groups who refuse to join the peace process.” The necessary measures for Pakistan to take cannot be to fight the Afghan Taliban to force them to come to peace talks. Even if it tries it cannot succeed where the combined might of the US-led Nato forces and the Afghan Army has failed to vanquish the Taliban. In fact, they continue to make on-the-ground gains while the Trump administration is yet to decide its Afghan policy. In any event, like similar other conflicts this one will ultimately be settled through negotiations. That is where Pakistan can, and is ready, to play its role for the sake of its own peace and security. Needless to say, Pakistan does not control the Taliban, but has enough influence to bring them to the negotiating table, as was done before the Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was killed in a US drone strike.
Peace will not return to that war-devastated country unless the Afghans themselves agree on some sort of a power-sharing arrangement. One positive step in that direction is the Russian initiative to develop a regional approach involving Kabul government-led multinational consultations for reconciliation with the Taliban. The US, a major stakeholder in the conflict, though has decided to stay away, expressing scepticism about the effort. Its own negotiating bid has long since failed. Ceaseless conflict and chaos only helps the common enemy, the IS, to consolidate its position in Afghanistan and use it as a launching pad for its activities in and outside the country. Hopefully, good sense will prevail sooner rather than later, and all involved will work towards a negotiated settlement of this never ending war.