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Will the Afghan peace course of be Pakistan’s street to redemption?

Will the Afghan peace process be Pakistan’s road to redemption?


By Madiha Afzal

A couple of 12 months after President Trump publicly excoriated Pakistan for “lies and deceit” and reduce off safety help in early 2018, the nation grew to become the important thing third participant within the U.S.-Taliban peace talks. It was a swift change of fortune, even by the requirements of Pakistan’s typical ups and downs with the US. By February 2020, when the U.S.-Taliban peace deal was signed, Pakistan had not solely propelled itself again into America’s good graces, it was testing out an bold new method to overseas coverage, hoping that it may start to shed its picture of a state related to terror. The pandemic has paused this new section considerably, as Pakistan and others have needed to flip inward, however which may be non permanent.

A return to relevance

When Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed U.S. envoy to the Afghan peace course of in September 2018, Pakistanis have been anxious. Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, was recognized for his skepticism on Pakistan. Over the following 12 months and a half, virtually every one in all Khalilzad’s journeys to the area included a go to to Islamabad.

Tracing his statements over time, you may see his reliance on Pakistan growing, and his tone softening. In some ways, Pakistan was uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of the two-phase construction of the peace course of — the Taliban refused to barter with Kabul till a U.S.-Taliban deal was signed — due to Pakistan’s relationships with each the U.S. and the Taliban. It appears to have performed so masterfully, producing Mullah Baradar, the deputy chief of the Taliban who had been in Pakistani custody, and fascinating in behind-the-scenes maneuvering that the U.S. has repeatedly acknowledged (and appreciated). Pakistan helped deliver the Taliban to the desk, finally leading to a deal. Pakistan’s overseas minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was current on the peace deal signing in Doha on February 29, warmly congratulating either side.

Maybe a deal would have been signed anyway. The Taliban received every little thing it wished, securing — in its eyes — a U.S. give up for an absolute minimal in guarantees. President Trump, in the meantime, had his thoughts set on exiting Afghanistan, and wished a deal earlier than the election. That will solid doubt on how a lot Pakistan did, or why. Regardless, it was Pakistan sitting on the desk alongside the 2 events to the deal in the long run. Having lengthy anxious about different gamers in Afghanistan, primarily India — certainly its calculations on Afghanistan are primarily based exactly on that fear — that was precisely what Pakistan wished.

Trump and Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan’s relationship received off to a considerably rocky begin. A number of months after Khan’s election in July 2018, the 2 populists exchanged a confrontation on Twitter over U.S. assist to Pakistan and the nation’s position within the conflict on terror. However by December, quickly after Khalilzad’s first journey to the area as U.S. envoy, Trump had written Khan a letter asking for his assist in the Afghan peace course of. There was a key confluence of pursuits on the Pakistani aspect: Khan has lengthy opposed an American army presence in Afghanistan and favored a negotiated settlement with the Taliban; the Pakistani military, in the meantime, acknowledged that an ascendant Taliban meant that any power-sharing association accompanying a peace deal would seemingly align with Pakistan’s imaginative and prescient of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan (i.e. a Pakistan-friendly authorities in Afghanistan). These components prompted Pakistan to assist get the Afghan Taliban to the desk. In January 2019, Senator Lindsay Graham visited Pakistan and met with Khan to speak about “reconciliation with the Taliban.”

Graham then paved the way in which for Khan and Trump to satisfy. They personally hit it off at their White Home assembly in July 2019, and have met a number of occasions since, together with on the sidelines of the U.N. Common Meeting and on the World Financial Discussion board in Davos. The connection appears to have been reset.

Overseas coverage ambitions

On the identical time that Pakistan made itself helpful to the US in Afghanistan, President Trump toned down his rhetoric branding Pakistan a terrorist state. Pakistan additionally obtained an IMF bailout, and its standing with the Monetary Motion Activity Power — a global watchdog — stayed fixed at a warning “gray” stage.

A extra assured Pakistan started making an attempt out an bold, proactive new method to its overseas coverage. Within the fall of 2019, after assembly Trump on the U.N., Khan provided to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Pakistan has lengthy balanced its relations between these two nations, however inserting itself within the center so publicly and intentionally advised a brand new tack.

After the U.S. killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in January, Pakistan misplaced no time in inserting itself diplomatically within the U.S.-Iran battle. Khan mentioned he could be comfortable to mediate; the chief of military workers urged “most restraint” and de-escalation in a telephone name with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and far the identical in a telephone name with Secretary of Protection Mark Esper; and Overseas Minister Qureshi promptly visited Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the US.

Pakistan’s efforts on the time appeared evocative of the nation’s overseas coverage below Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto within the 1970s, with its rules of nonalignment and a particular relationship with Muslim nations.

Because the nation started coping with the well being and financial fallout from the pandemic, Khan despatched out a name, on behalf of all growing nations, to industrialized nations and multilateral establishments for debt reduction. The G-20 and Worldwide Financial Fund have agreed to droop all debt funds for growing nations by way of the remainder of the 12 months. Khan’s authorities claimed this as a victory, saying Khan had led the cost for reduction on behalf of different growing nations.

What of China and India? With China, Pakistan’s closest ally, Pakistan’s relationship stays fixed. With India, Pakistan has restricted itself to strident rhetoric because the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy, and no extra; however, tensions on the border have been working excessive.

The query that continues to be is: Will Pakistan’s method to militant teams — the Haqqanis particularly — substantively change? The suspicions post-9/11 on Pakistan’s infamous double-game — giving haven to terrorists whereas additionally cooperating on counterterrorism with the US — run deep. To reply this, it’s value understanding what Pakistan desires in Afghanistan.

What Pakistan desires in Afghanistan

There are two issues Pakistan does not need in Afghanistan. The primary is a hasty American withdrawal. To Pakistan, that evokes the time interval after the Soviet-Afghan conflict, which fueled its sense of and narrative of abandonment, setting the stage for a lot of of Pakistan’s subsequent harmful behaviors.

Pakistan additionally doesn’t need an unfriendly authorities in Kabul — to be exact, it doesn’t need a authorities that’s extra pleasant with India than it’s with Pakistan. And it’s no secret that it has had a tough relationship with the present Afghan authorities.

Thus, one may conjecture that Pakistan desires some sort of power-sharing association to emerge in Afghanistan. If the Taliban has a big sufficient position, the federal government is prone to be friendlier to Pakistan. However I might warning towards assuming that Pakistan desires the Taliban in full management in Afghanistan. For one, Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban is just not seamless. Two, Pakistan doesn’t need an Islamic emirate within the vein of 1990s Afghanistan on its western border. That didn’t work out nicely for Pakistan — and a sequence of occasions led to it changing into the goal of terror for years.

In some methods, the established order is working for Pakistan. It seeks to maintain its standing as a key participant in some type by way of the second section of Taliban-Kabul talks, with a gradual U.S. withdrawal. After all, that standing is just not assured throughout intra-Afghan talks, given Pakistan’s powerful relationship with Kabul. However its chief of military workers Common Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Kabul not too long ago, assembly each President Ashraf Ghani and Excessive Council for Nationwide Reconciliation chief Abdullah Abdullah, and people relationships appear to have improved in some methods.

A street to redemption?

Will any of this alteration Pakistan’s elementary calculus within the long-term, or alter the strategic imperatives which have led it to depend on militant proxies? Will Pakistan finally let go of its assist for the Haqqani community? The quick reply is that it hasn’t confirmed but that it’s going to. The State Division, in its newest nation studies on terrorism, notes that the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban nonetheless have secure haven in Pakistan.

Pakistan would wish a wholesale redefinition of coverage to let go of its (existential) insecurities (vis-à-vis India, that lead it to “make investments” in militant proxies on each its western and japanese borders). That is simpler mentioned than performed, because the army thrives on these insecurities. So long as the army, the prime architect of Pakistan’s jihadist overseas coverage so far, stays probably the most highly effective establishment in Pakistan, it’s exhausting to argue that something will change. Worryingly, Pakistan’s army has considerably consolidated its maintain on the civilian authorities within the final two years. Domestically, it’s more and more cracking down on dissent. And Pakistan’s legal guidelines and academic insurance policies which have given rise domestically to extremism stay intact as ever. Its prime minister, too, engages in narratives sympathetic to terrorist teams; he did so once more on June 25, when he alarmingly referred to Osama bin Laden as a martyr.

However Pakistan has additionally loved the advantages of being again on the desk, and it badly desires to shed its picture related to terrorism. It is aware of that cracking down on terrorist teams brings financial and soft-power advantages — immediately, through its standing with the Monetary Motion Activity Power, and extra broadly as nicely. In the end, if the advantages of this newer method begin to outweigh the web advantages Pakistan perceives from hedging its bets and from counting on militant proxies, Pakistan’s long-term insurance policies may slowly begin to shift.

What the US can do

The US can nudge it alongside that path by elevating each the prices of Pakistan’s previous behaviors and the advantages of its new ones. The apparent means to do that in a single transfer would have been to situation Pakistan’s seat on the desk for the Afghanistan talks on it definitively denouncing the Haqqanis, with proof — however that didn’t occur. Going ahead, Pakistan’s Monetary Motion Activity Power standing ought to be tied extra intently to it slicing its ties to the Haqqanis. And two potential carrots are one of the best wager to incentivize good conduct on Pakistan’s half: First, Pakistan appreciates and intently follows any optimistic diplomatic language and a focus it receives from the U.S., so the State Division and White Home ought to reward Pakistan when it behaves nicely (because the Trump administration has performed to some extent). Pakistan indicated, for example, its “disappointment” with the State Division’s not too long ago launched nation studies on terrorism, together with by saying the report had not acknowledged the total scale of its assist with the Afghan peace course of. Secondly, greater than assist, Pakistan desires to extend its commerce with the US. Trump promised an awesome deal extra commerce with Pakistan in his first assembly with Khan. The U.S. can now situation any expanded commerce on Pakistan’s good conduct. And the U.S. authorities ought to privately be completely clear with Pakistan on what behaviors it’s rewarding, and what it’s punishing.