Updated: November 24, 2020 8:12:45 am
It says a lot about Pakistan-Afghanistan relations that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Kabul was his first in the two years that he has been in office. Its timing was clearly linked to the stalled intra-Afghan talks and the transition in the White House. The visit appeared aimed at sending messages to multiple audiences — to the incoming Biden Administration that Pakistan is sincere about its desire for peace in Afghanistan; to the government in Kabul that Islamabad is a friend, and is making its best efforts toward this end; and to the Taliban, who Islamabad claims to have brought to the table for talks with the US, that they need to stay the course.
The “intra-Afghan” talks in Doha between the Taliban and the delegation of the Afghan Republic have been stuck for weeks with the two sides unable to agree on an agenda or a time frame. Both sides will be watching the transition in the White House, and what changes, if any, President-elect Joe Biden might make to the US policy on Afghanistan. Meanwhile, on his way out of the White House, President Donald Trump, who cut a deal with the Taliban without the involvement of the Afghan government for the departure of foreign militaries from the country, has ordered a further drawdown of troops. This, even as the Taliban, who have ruled out a ceasefire before reaching an agreement with their compatriots, step up attacks against civilian and non-civilian targets in Afghanistan.
Imran Khan and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared their determination to make a “leap of faith” to remove mistrust between their two countries. Both sides know that the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship is linked to peace in Afghanistan, and vice versa. But peace-loving Afghans do not trust the Taliban. They know that the generals in Rawalpindi have influence over the Taliban leadership, and provide patronage and safe haven to them and others like the Haqqani Network who wreak havoc within Afghanistan. They also know that for Pakistan, the Taliban are a hedge against the building of a cross-border Pashtun solidarity, and against the irreconcilable Pakistan-Afghanistan views on the Durand Line. It cannot have helped that two days before the visit, the Pakistan government chose to attack India for purportedly using Afghan soil to launch alleged terrorist attacks in Pakistan, by extension implicating Kabul. Unsurprisingly, the Ghani government has rejected these allegations outright.
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