Foreign Minister’s whirlwind tour

The incumbent government has started a proactive diplomacy aimed at securing a political settlement of Afghan conflict. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Querishi has completed a whirlwind tour of four nations by visiting Kabul, Tehran, Beijing and Moscow with senior officials of the foreign office as a government policy of outreach in the neighborhood. Pakistan has always emphasised that solution to the conflict lies in Afghan led and Afghans owned peace process. International community’s recent consensus to adopt this as a guiding principle to resolve the 40 years old afghan conflict vindicates Pakistan’s long held view.

In his visit to Kabul, the foreign Minister met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani. He apprised the Afghan leadership on Pakistan efforts to facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue. He stressed the need for greater synergy among regional countries to ensure long term peace and stability in the region. Later, Shah Mehmood Qureshi travelled to Tehran to meet Iranian foreign Minister Jawad Zarif and discussed the dynamics of situation in Afghanistan. Iran is already in contact with the Taliban. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran Supreme National Council made the announcement while on a visit to Afghan capital Kabul.

In his visit of China, the Foreign Minister had deep discussions with his counterpart Wang Yi about new changes to the situation in Afghanistan and reached a broad census about the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan in the context of changing scenario. In the Beijing parleys both Pakistan and China reiterated their determination to adopt joint course of action for achieving regional peace and stability. Qureshi on the final leg of his four nations went to Moscow and met Russian Foreign Minister Sergie Lavrov. The two sides discussed the changing situation in Afghanistan and the efforts that are being made regarding the peace process in Afghanistan.

Pakistan last week facilitated a meeting between the United States and the Taliban in Abu Dahabi in a bid to pave the way for reviving the peace process that has remained stalled since 2015 when it broke down due to a news leak that insurgency leader Mullah Omer had long been dead.

The complicated Pak-US ties have been particularly tense since President Donald Trump last year announced his Afghanistan and South Asia strategy in which Islamabad was accused of not acting against terrorists safe heavens. During the course of its bad patch in ties with the US, Pakistan increased its interaction with China Iran and Russia. A trilateral—Pakistan, China and Afghanistan—forum held its second meeting on December 15 and Moscow had hosted last month second peace conference on Afghanistan, involving regional players, the Taliban and Afghan High peace Council.

Now that President Trump in a tactical shift sought support from Pakistan and the latter has happily accepted to help, Querishi visit is meant to reassure the regional partners that Pakistan will remain in touch with them on Afghan reconciliation issue. The US hopes that the Taliban and Afghan government strike a peace deal by April 2019. President Donald Trump plans to withdraw roughly half of more than 14000 troops stationed in Afghanistan at the end of next year—a move that is opposed by Pentagon, which wants to continue to apply direct and indirect military pressure on the Taliban, while supporting nascent efforts for peace.

Pakistan in response to the US President’s request for help with Afghan reconciliation process facilitated talks between the US and the Taliban from December 17 to 19. The talks started in Abu Dhabi with Saudi Arabia and the UAE also present in the room. The Afghan government, however, was not part of negotiations because of Taliban’s refusal to talk to what they call the “US puppet.”Afghan government officials, however, held separate quadrilateral meeting with the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE, and discussed the possibility of direct engagement of Afghan government with the Taliban for planned intra-Afghan dialogue.

Meanwhile, the violence in Afghanistan is on the rise. The Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) group militants have unleashed a series of deadly attacks in the past few months wherein civilian have borne the brunt. In suicide bombing and firing of militants on government’s offices in Kabul 43 people have died and 13 other wounded on Wednesday. That is why the surprised move of President Trump to pull sufficient number of troops has stunned and dismayed diplomats and Afghan government officials in Kabul. They feel that the ill-timed announcement of half of the US troops’ withdrawal may render bleak the prospects of ceasefire between the Afghan government and Taliban. Pakistan’s diplomacy of outreach in the neighborhood appears to ward off a situation akin to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989.

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