Afghan peace talks collapse a 'diplomatic test' for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The sudden move by US President Donald Trump to pull out of the talks with the Taliban will not only jeopardise the prospects of peace in Afghanistan, but also throw a new challenge for Pakistan at a time when its hands are already full dealing with other foreign policy issues.

In its official reaction to the sudden US move, the Foreign Office called on all sides for restraint and reminded them of the commitment to pursue peace.

“Pakistan has been facilitating the peace and reconciliation process in good faith and as a shared responsibility, and has encouraged all sides to remain engaged with sincerity and patience.”

Interaction with officials, who deal with the foreign policy matters, reveal that Pakistan knew that the road to peace would be bumpy but never expected talks to breakdown when peace accord was about to be signed by the US and the Taliban.

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All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not authorised to speak to the media on the subject.

One official disclosed that Pakistan knew that Trump would be having a secret meeting with senior Taliban leaders at Camp David and was hopeful that the unprecedented meeting would pave the for the much-needed peace in Afghanistan.

Islamabad is now worried over the sudden breakdown in talks because it fears that the new situation may put more pressure on Pakistan to do more to convince the Taliban for a ceasefire.

President Trump, although canceled the peace talks and a would-be secret meeting with the Taliban at Camp David over the killing of an American soldier in Thursday’s attack in Kabul, there is a feeling in Pakistan that there might be other reasons that compelled the US to take the drastic step.

Even analysts and commentators in the US are questioning if the killing of a solider was the actual reason. They say if that was the case the US should not have entered into talks with the Taliban in first place since this year alone 16 US servicemen were killed by the insurgents.

One possible reason behind the Trump’s last minute decision may be to persuade the Taliban to agree to a permanent ceasefire, something the group has long resisted.

If that was the actual reason, this may bring Pakistan’s role in the spotlight once again as the Trump administration is likely to ask Islamabad to play its role.

“The US is likely to make Pakistan a scapegoat if it fails to strike a deal with the Taliban on its terms,” cautioned defence analyst Lt General (retd) Amjad Shoaib.

He was of the view that Pakistan had indeed pushed the Taliban to the negotiating table but he wasn’t sure if Islamabad had enough leverage to convince the insurgents for a ceasefire.

“At best Pakistan may persuade the Taliban to reduce the level of violence,” Gen Shoaib, who is still closely connected with the military establishment, remarked.

He doubts the Taliban would agree on a ceasefire.

Pakistan has invested so much in the ongoing reconciliation process with the hope that this may pave the way for some semblance of peace in Afghanistan.

Trump says he cancelled peace talks with Afghan Taliban

The orderly and honorable US troops draw down would also open up opportunities for Pakistan to improve its ties with Washington at a time when Islamabad desperately needs its support against the backdrop of brewing tensions with India over Kashmir.

Officials; however, hope that Trump’s announcement was meant to enhance Washington’s bargaining position and not necessarily a permanent policy.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated that peace talks may restart provided the Taliban met certain conditions. One of the concerns expressed by Pompeo was that whether the Taliban leadership could deliver on their promises.

There is a feeling that there may be disconnect between the Taliban leaders negotiating a peace deal and field commanders operating inside Afghanistan.

Given the tricky situation, Gen Shoaib thinks Pakistan must get involved other regional players such as Russia and China to get the desired results for the Afghan peace deal.

He believes China and Russia also maintain ties with the Taliban and Pakistan, instead of taking solo responsibility, must strive for a regional approach.

Nevertheless, the sudden deadlock in talks after months of painstaking negotiations will test Pakistan’s diplomatic skills to ward off any eventuality.

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