Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned that a hasty international withdrawal from Afghanistan would be “unwise” and warned against setting an unrealistic timetable.
In a opinion published on The Washington Post on Saturday, the prime minister said that the road to talks between the Afghan leadership and the Taliban was not easy but “we can continue thanks to the courage and flexibility shown from all sides”.
He pointed out that the United States and its allies have facilitated prisoner exchange – which the Taliban attributed to the resumption of peace talks – while the Afghan government and the Taliban have “responded to the Afghan people’s longing for peace”.
Earlier this month, talks between warring factions in Afghanistan to end the 19-year-old conflict in Afghanistan were finally reached ongoing in Doha, Qatar is amid calls for an immediate ceasefire and defending the gains made by Afghanistan over the past decades.
The start of talks after protracted delays marked major progress towards the end of the conflict in Afghanistan. Talks initially started on March 10 after that US-Taliban agreement, but disputes over the release of prisoners put them off. That let go of of the final wave of six “dangerous” Taliban prisoners and their transfer to Qatar paved the way for the negotiating team to start their talks.
In Saturday’s op-ed, the prime minister said that intra-Afghan negotiations “are likely to be more difficult, requiring patience and compromise from all sides”.
“Progress can be slow and tiring; there may even be occasional deadlocks, as the Afghan people work together for their future. At such times, it is best to remember that a bloodless stalemate on the negotiating table is much better than a bloody stalemate on the battlefield,” he wrote.
He added that all parties investing in the Afghan peace process must “resist the temptation to set an unrealistic timetable”. He also warned of regional destroyers, who he said saw the instability in Afghanistan as an advantage for their own political ends.
The prime minister highlighted that it was important to start planning what would happen in post-war Afghanistan. “How can the world help Afghanistan transition post-war to a sustainable peace? How do we create the conditions that allow the millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, and other countries, to return to their homeland with dignity and respect?”
He assured that Pakistan will continue to support the Afghan peace process. “Like the United States, Pakistan does not want to see Afghanistan become a sanctuary for international terrorism anymore.”
Afghanistan owned and led process
He also spoke of the price Pakistan has to pay for the conflict in its neighboring country. “Through decades of conflict, Pakistan has assumed responsibility for taking care of more than four million Afghan refugees. Weapons and medicine have also flowed into our country. The war has disrupted our economic trajectory and the radicalization of the fringes of our own society.”
The prime minister said decades of conflict had taught him two lessons. “Firstly, that we are too closely linked to Afghanistan by geography, culture and kinship for events in that country to not overshadow Pakistan. We realize Pakistan will not know true peace until our Afghan brothers and sisters are reconciled.
“We also learned that peace and political stability in Afghanistan cannot be imposed from without through the use of force.
“Only a reconciliation process that belongs to Afghanistan and is led by Afghanistan, which recognizes the reality and diversity of Afghan politics, can produce lasting peace,” he said.
The prime minister revealed that Pakistan did not hesitate to convince US President Donald Trump in 2018 that it would “make every effort” to facilitate a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan.
Highlighting Pakistan’s contribution to the fight against terrorism, he said that “more than 80,000 Pakistani security personnel and civilians have given their lives in what is possibly the largest and most successful war against terrorism”.
However, the country continues to be the target of attacks by “an externally capable terrorist group based in Afghanistan”, he said.
He expressed hope that the Afghan government would take steps to control territory within the country which was used to launch “attacks against the Afghan people, the international coalition forces stationed in Afghanistan, and other countries in the region, including Pakistan”.
“Like the United States, we do not want the blood and treasure we have shed in the fight against terrorism to go to waste,” he said.
The prime minister added that Pakistan was “committed to multilateral collaboration” to achieve peace and stability in the region.
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