The News – Afghan president to visit Pakistan on 27th

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will be visiting Islamabad on June 27 for a daylong trip.

Muhammad Saleh Zaafir

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 05 June 2019. He has spoken of mending ties with Pakistan and given an undertaking to open a new chapter in Pakistan-Afghan relations.

Ashraf Ghani who has made the announcement in his Eidul Fitr message is coming to Pakistan when it has been complaining of presence of elements in the Afghan tribal areas who are bent on creating disturbance inside Pakistan.

Such elements are working at the behest of Indian terror sponsoring intelligence agency RAW.

Ashraf Ghani said he would visit Pakistan on June 27 to open a new chapter in his country’s relationship with its neighbour and mend ties that are often characterised by mistrust and tit-for-tat accusations.

According to wire reports, President Ashraf Ghani in his Eid message said he had agreed to the visit after his meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan last week on the fringes of OIC summit in Makkah.

“I hope the visit will be positive,” Ghani said.

During their meeting on the sidelines of the OIC summit, Prime Minister Imran and President Ghani exchanged views on bilateral relations and the Afghan peace process.

Prime Minister Imran had reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, according to a PM Office statement.

The prime minister also underlined Pakistan’s firm support to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process for political settlement.

It is expected that the Afghan president will have an important meeting with Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and will be guest at the banquet to be hosted by President Arif Alvi.

The visiting president will also meet President Alvi. President Ashraf Ghani will be heading a delegation consisting of stalwarts belonging to various Afghan outfits and organisations.

The sources said US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad’s shuttle diplomacy had also played an important role in paving way for the visit.

President Ashraf Ghani will also visit India next month, the sources added.

Dawn – Talking Afghan peace

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 30 January 2019. In what is being described as the most tangible step forward in the Afghan peace talks, US officials and the Afghan Taliban seem to have come close to a deal on a draft framework that could bring to an end America’s longest war.

Although there are still major obstacles in the way, sustained negotiations between the two sides have paved the path to a final agreement on the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

Significantly, the breakthrough came after the talks had hit a frustrating stalemate earlier, with the Taliban threatening to pull out from the negotiations entirely, leading to a toughening of the US tone.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American negotiator, had even indicated that the US would increase military pressure in order to force the Taliban to return to the negotiating table.

It all happened after a meeting between US and Taliban representatives late last year in Abu Dhabi, and attended by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, ended on a positive note. However, the Taliban’s refusal to meet representatives of the Kabul government who were present in the city clouded the outcome and the mood.

Some reports suggested that Khalilzad had received guarantees from Saudi Arabia that the Taliban would enter into direct talks with the Kabul government. But at the last moment, the Taliban backed out of their promise and reinforced reservations among various Afghan factions that the peace process would go nowhere without the Taliban showing some flexibility.

The Taliban turndown particularly infuriated Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who had sent his national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, to the UAE.

Yet another setback to the fragile negotiating process came when the Taliban rejected a January meeting expected to take place in Saudi Arabia. The Taliban officials said there was no decision taken on the location.

At the core of the Taliban refusal was a long-held suspicion of US motivations. The Taliban accused the US of duplicity and of reneging on the agreement reached in previous meetings.

A major point of contention stalling the talks was the insistence of the Taliban that the US should stick to what it claims was the ‘agreed agenda’ of discussing the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and preventing Afghan soil from being used against other states.

The Americans have now backed out and are unilaterally adding new subjects. The ice was finally broken after hectic behind-the-scene diplomatic efforts, with Islamabad reportedly playing a major role in persuading the Taliban to return to the table.

US-Taliban talks: As hopes rise of a deal, what comes next?

Initially, the meeting between the Taliban and US officials was to take place in Islamabad, but the media report leaking the news led to the venue being shifted to Doha. The talks that continued for six days finally produced remarkable results it would seem, with both sides apparently showing flexibility.

A change in the Taliban negotiating team may have also contributed to the breakthrough. In the midst of the marathon Doha negotiations, the Taliban appointed Mullah Baradar Akhund, a deputy of Mullah Omar and co-founder of the Islamist militia as the chief negotiator.

Mullah Baradar who had been held by Pakistani authorities for more than a decade was released only months ago; he remains one of the most powerful and respected insurgent leaders, despite having been in custody for so long. He has also been elevated to second position in the Taliban hierarchy.

His appointment manifested the seriousness the Taliban assign to the peace negotiations. Another factor behind Mullah Baradar’s elevation is believed to be the respect he commands with and his influence over Taliban field commanders whose support would be critical to any peace agreement.

His heading the team has certainly given greater authority to the Taliban negotiators.

Now it all depends on the Taliban agreeing to a ceasefire and sitting across the table with the Kabul government. The persistent Taliban refusal to negotiate with representatives from Ashraf Ghani’s government has so far remained a major stumbling block in taking the peace process forward.

But there appears to be a strong possibility of the insurgents agreeing to an intra-Afghan dialogue after a framework deal. A ceasefire could follow the talks. But there is still a long way to go before a comprehensive agreement among all stakeholders can be reached.

Exiting Afghanistan, however, remains the biggest foreign policy challenge for Washington. Although it has been an unwinnable war, America’s departure may not be that easy. Complete withdrawal may have its own complications.

The 17-year-long war has left the country more divided. With their battlefield victories and expanding territorial control, the insurgents have certainly gained the upper hand as the Afghan endgame comes closer.

The recent large-scale attacks, launched by the Taliban, targeting Afghan military personnel and installations have given the insurgents a further boost.

There is no indication of them holding back their guns until the Americans agree to a time frame for complete troop withdrawal. In fact, there could be an escalation in the Taliban’s military offensive in spring. It will be a fight-fight and talk-talk situation.

America’s desperation to pull out is itself seen as a victory for the Taliban who have gained greater international recognition over the years.

That has also fuelled apprehension among other Afghan groups inside and outside the government. A major challenge for Khalilzad would be to take all those groups on board.

President Ashraf Ghani’s speech in Davos is indicative of the gap that exists between America’s exit plan and the Kabul government’s concerns.

There is increasing apprehension that the withdrawal of the American forces could further empower the Taliban and plunge Afghanistan into another round of civil war. These concerns are valid and any peace deal with the Taliban must address those fears.

Then there is also a need for a regional agreement guaranteeing non-interference in Afghanistan. The involvement of regional countries has fuelled civil wars in Afghanistan. Though there has been a significant breakthrough, it is not going to be a smooth path to peace in Afghanistan.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Dawn – Foreign Minister Qureshi, Afghan president discuss bilateral ties, regional security in Kabul

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Saturday reached Kabul to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other senior officials during his maiden trip to any country after assuming his new responsibilities.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Pakistan, 15 September 2018. In his one-on-one meeting with the Afghan president, bilateral relations as well as matters relating to regional peace and security were discussed, Radio Pakistan reported.

Qureshi also held delegation-level talks with the Afghan side during which a range of issues concerning bilateral relations came under discussion.

The foreign minister separately met his Afghan counterpart, Salahuddin Rabbani. Delegations of both sides were present during the meeting.

Qureshi was quoted as saying during the meeting that Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to make joint efforts to meet their challenges.

He stressed that there is a great potential to further bolster relations and cooperation between the two countries, according to Radio Pakistan.

In his remarks, the Afghan foreign minister said a peaceful environment in Pakistan and Afghanistan is vital for regional peace. He said his country desires cordial relations with all neighbouring countries, including Pakistan.

Earlier, Qureshi was received by Afghan military officials on his arrival in Kabul, according to a tweet by his party, the PTI.

“The talks are an important milestone in ushering an era of peace and regional stability and forming a partnership that will benefit both Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the tweet said.

Speaking to Dawn on Friday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had said that Foreign Minister Qureshi’s day-long visit to Kabul aimed at improving coordination between the two countries.

“The main purpose of the foreign minister’s visit is to improve coordination on security-related issues between the two countries,” he added.

To underscore the importance of the trip, he said it would be Qureshi’s first visit to Kabul (after becoming foreign minister) and it showed that Afghanistan was on top of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

On September 3, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani had phoned FM Qureshi to greet him on his appointment as foreign minister. He also extended him an invitation to visit Kabul.

Media reports earlier suggested that Qureshi would extend an invitation on behalf of Prime Minister Imran Khan to President Ghani to visit Pakistan.

Marked improvement in relations has been observed since Islamabad and Kabul agreed to operationalise the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), the new bilateral ties framework that, according to the Foreign Office, provided the most comprehensive institutional mechanism to discuss all mutual issues.

During their phone conversation earlier this month, both Qureshi and his Afghan counterpart Rabbani agreed that the next round of APAPPS would soon be held in Islamabad.

Civil-military leadership discusses foreign policy, security challenges [bold]

Also on Friday, the country’s civil and military leadership sat together at PM Office to discuss foreign policy challenges.

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inter-Services Intelligence director general Lt General Naveed Mukhtar, FM Qureshi, the foreign secretary and other senior officials were present at a high-level meeting chaired by PM Khan.

“Bilateral relations with certain friendly countries and issues relating to security came under discussion during the meeting,” said a brief statement issued after the meeting.

However, the information minister told Dawn that the meeting discussed issues related to foreign policy and security. “The participants also discussed the strategy for the future visits of some foreign dignitaries,” he added.

Moreover, he said, the army chief also briefed the meeting about his last visit to Kabul.

General Bajwa had travelled to Kabul in June and held a one-on-one meeting with Afghan President Ghani.