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Experts say Pakistan’s role in intra-Afghan talks ‘crucial’

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Karachi, Pakistan

Pakistan has played a behind-the-scenes but crucial role in wooing the Afghan Taliban for long-awaited intra-Afghan peace talks aimed at political reconciliation and ending decades of violence in the war-torn country, according to local experts.

The historic negotiations, which began in Doha on Saturday, follow a US-Taliban agreement reached in February.

They will tackle difficult issues, including the conditions for a permanent ceasefire, constitutional changes and power sharing.

“Pakistan has played a silent but very important role in getting the Taliban to sit with the government in Kabul and other stakeholders,” retired Brig. General Mahmood Shah, an expert on Afghan affairs based in Peshawar, told Anadolu news agency.

“The months-long reconciliation process was intended to pave the way for direct talks between the Taliban and other Afghan stakeholders, including the government in Kabul, to reach a political settlement,” Shah said, adding that the Intra-Afghan talks “could not be possible without the full support of Islamabad.”

In December 2018, Pakistan also organized rare direct talks between Washington and the Taliban, paving the way for the Doha peace agreement between the two parties.

Pakistan also facilitated the historic first round of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad in July 2015. The process collapsed after the Taliban announced the death of their longtime leader, Mullah Omar, triggering a fierce internal power struggle.

The decades-long dependence of Afghans on Pakistan in terms of business, education and health still gives Islamabad some influence over different Afghan groups, mainly the Pashtun population.

The new spokesperson for the Taliban office in Doha, Mohammad Naeem, received a doctorate from the International Islamic University in Islamabad in 2006.

“Pakistan has had a respectful relationship with the Afghans, including the Taliban. It was this relationship that actually helped persuade the Taliban to come to the table, ”Shah, who served from 2003 to 2006 as secretary of the northwestern Pakistani tribal region that borders Afghanistan . , argued.

Echoing Shah’s views, Ashfaq Hussain, an Islamabad-based defense and security expert, observed that Islamabad had long tried to woo the Taliban to seek a political settlement to this nearly two-decade conflict. .

“The main role was played by the Afghans themselves, whose resistance forced Washington to come to the table,” Hussain told Anadolu news agency.

Author of several books on defense and security issues, including a bestseller on Kargil’s 1999 war with India, Hussein said Pakistan’s role remained important throughout the reconciliation process. .

‘Pakistan has given confidence to the Taliban’

Just two weeks before the start of the intra-Afghan peace talks, a seven-member Taliban delegation, led by deputy militia leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, traveled to Islamabad to discuss the then-proposed direct talks with the government of Kabul. Many see the visit as “consent” by the Taliban to sit with the Afghan government, which they have long refused despite constant international pressure.

“This visit was indeed very significant in paving the way for the long-awaited intra-Afghan dialogue. She played a role in [Taliban] spirits like Pakistan gave them full confidence, ”Shah said.

However, he dispelled the impression of Pakistan’s “twist of arms” tactics to coerce the Taliban leadership into negotiations with the Afghan government.

“Those who give that impression don’t really know the psyche and history of the Afghans. You can’t twist their arms, but you can woo them with respect. This is what Pakistan did to break the ice.” , he continued.

In addition to the Taliban visit, U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad made a dozen visits to Islamabad in less than two years – five in the past five months alone, which has strengthened Pakistan’s role in the reconciliation process. So much so that Khalilzad rushed to Islamabad on Sunday, just one day after the opening of intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, to discuss the outcome of the initial dialogue.

According to Tahir Khan, another Islamabad-based Afghan affairs expert, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had proposed that his country help the United States persuade the Taliban to hold talks with Washington to reach a political settlement during his visit. at the United Nations General Assembly. in New York last year.

“Washington finally realized that only Pakistan was capable of dealing with the Taliban. This is why the Trump administration has changed its attitude towards Islamabad,” Khan told Anadolu, citing frequent visits by Khalilzad in Islamabad.

Last year, US President Donald Trump stepped up efforts to resume the long-stalled process, asking Pakistan for help in ending Washington’s longest war in recent history.

Talk like ‘rocky ride’

Experts see the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks as a “complex” process with no choice but “success”.

“It’s very difficult to predict the outcome of these talks. It’s like a tough race,” Shah said.

“Personally, I see a low chance of success, but I fully support the process because there is no other solution,” he said.

“The history of the Afghans tells us that they have failed to resolve their differences through talks. But history does not always repeat itself.”

Partially agreeing with Shah, Khan said that “without a doubt, this is difficult terrain, but all parties, including the Taliban, have no choice but to be successful.”

“The Taliban, who have long refused to sit with the government in Kabul, have finally relaxed their position and are now negotiating with them. This shows their seriousness and gives hope.”

Khan, however, warned that both sides, especially the Taliban, could create new and difficult conditions as talks progress.

“The outcome of the initial meetings is positive and hopeful. But the real test for both sides will be in the actual talks for power sharing and constitutional changes.”

The Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summary form. Please contact us for subscription options.

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