Alwaght- The first visit to Afghanistan of the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday took place as the two neighbors’ relations over the past year have been improving. Over the past month, Afghan government officials visited Islamabad, including the High Council for National Reconciliation’s chief Abdullah Abdullah, Parliament Speaker Rahmani Rahmani, Minister of Commerce Naser Ahmad, and a number of others. Also, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Imran Khan had various meetings over the past year including when Ghani visited Pakistan in June 2019 and also when the two took part at the 14th Organization for Islamic Cooperation conference hosted by Saudi Arabia in May 2019.
The unprecedented trip to Kabul of the Pakistani PM comes in a period the peace negotiations between the central Afghan government and the Taliban, which started in September, have reached an impasse without making any considerable progress in the past two months and the instability and violence have intensified during this time. The move by the PM is meant to be a step by Islamabad to show its support to Kabul in the quest for a solution to its security problems.
Afghanistan’s leader called the visit “historic” and said that “it serves as an important message to help end the violence” in his country. On the other side, Imran Khan referred to Pakistan’s role in the peace pact signed between the US and the Taliban and then the start of the intra-Afghan, adding that his government will “do everything” possible to reduce the violence in the war-ravaged nation and reach a sustainable peace.
The presence of the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) General Feyz Hamid, which is beside the army is one of the poles of Pakistan’s political structure and a link between Islamabad and Kabul, within the delegation can carry a message of seriousness of the stances stated by Pakistan.
Islamabad tries to highlight its constructive role in the Taliban’s coming to the negotiating table and the overall peace process in the neighboring country. This attempt comes to reverse the negative vision of Islamabad by the international community that accuses Pakistan of supporting the Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan. It also eyes to rebuild Afghanistan’s trust in Pakistan. Kabul’s distrust in Islamabad in the past few years pushed the Afghan leaders to resort to the promotion of an alliance with India to create a balance with Pakistan.
Islamabad’s ideal outlook: Kabul with the Taliban and against India
The Pakistani measures to remove obstacles of the Kabul-Taliban talks are a necessity to Imran Khan’s administration. The PM’s expression of concerns with the growing violence and war in recent months in Afghanistan stems from this necessity.
Part of this necessity is related to Pakistani international alliances. The shift of the US foreign policy focus from West Asia to East Asia to create regional alliances and change the equation against the Chinese power gain has led to a change in Washington’s regional strategy and shift to New Delhi. Also, the downturn of Afghanistan in the American foreign policy has reduced the importance of maintaining the alliance with Pakistan.
In such a situation, always in need of foreign help, like that of the US or the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies, to settle to economic troubles, Pakistan in the recent years has moved to stronger partnership with China. Meanwhile, Beijing’s security worries about Salafism and terrorism in its territories, mainly in the Muslim-majority Xinjian province, give Pakistan reasons to review its type of relations with the Salafi and militant groups.
From another aspect, with the West leaving Pakistan alone in the face of India in the Kashmir crisis, China’s supportive role in the international institutions increases. So, the country looks forward to playing a positive role in Afghanistan peace talks as a chance to improve its international prestige.
Also, Islamabad develops serious concerns about ISIS terrorist group’s power gain in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Southern and Northern Waziristan regions. The Pakistani leaders know that rejuvenated violence can persuade the local affiliates of the Afghanistan-based terrorist groups to reorganize and there may be another attempt towards a caliphate this time in the Pakistan and Afghan territories.
The twenty-fifth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted to the United Nations Security Council earlier this year estimates that between 6000 and 6500 Pakistani terrorists are active in Afghanistan, more of whom affiliated with the Tahrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani branch of the Taliban.
This issue becomes more serious if we know that the Pentagon in the past few days said that it is planning to remove from Afghanistan about 2,500 troops by January, namely days before Joe Biden's inauguration as president of the US. According to an agreement between the US and the Taliban that proposed a gradual exit, the remaining US forces had to leave Afghanistan by next April but Afghanistan and Pakistan said that would undermine the peace process and the dialogue with the militants. Certainly, Pakistan is worried about a reignited war between the central government and the Taliban as this would put on a shaky foundation the taken steps and even lead to the failure of the negotiations.
In recent years, Islamabad raised accusations about India’s contacts to anti-Pakistani terrorist groups in Afghanistan. According to Pakistani officials, India uses Afghanistan soil for financial support to terrorism against Pakistan and this was possibly one of the topics of Imran Khan’s discussions with Kabul. Earlier Imran Khan told the German newspaper Der Spiegel that he recently talked to Abdullah and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the head of Hezb-e-Islami party, and told them “we do not have preferences in Afghanistan, and our only interest is that the future government of Kabul would not let India launch operations against the Pakistani territories from Afghanistan.”
So, India is a reason for Pakistan to take part in the Afghanistan peace process. Pakistan is for the Taliban participation in the power as a pressure tool against the Indian influence in Afghanistan. New Delhi is a serious detractor of any Afghan government incorporating the Taliban.
Since the collapse of the Taliban rule in 2011 with the US invasion, India spent about $2 billion in Afghanistan reconstruction projects to support the minus-Taliban strategy. That is while Pakistan, for its dispute with India over Kashmir, reads any Indian toehold gain a threat to its national security.
Now it remains to wait and see if the optimism voiced by both the Pakistani and Afghan leaders about the positive results of the Imran Khan visit to the improvement of the bilateral ties and progress of the peace process can lead to practical actions in these areas.