The second round of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Bilateral Dialogue, jointly conducted by the Regional Peace Institute (RPI) and the Royal Danish Defence College (RDDC) was held in Islamabad on September 12-13.
The track was initiated last May with its first round in Kabul amidst heightened tensions between the two neighbouring countries.
Afghanistan was represented at the dialogue by an illustrious delegation comprising Sayed Hamed Gailani, National Islamic Front of Afghanistan (NIFA), Mirwais Yasini, Dr. Farouq Azam, Chairman, Movement for Peaceful Transformation of Afghanistan, Dr. Anwarulhaq Ahady, President, The New National Front of Afghanistan, Dr. Ghairat Baheer, Chairman, Political Committee, Hizb e Islami, Afghanistan, Sayed Ishaq Gailani, Mr. Nasir Ahmad Haidarzai, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Mr. Mozammil Shinwari, Former Deputy Minister of Commerce and Industries, Shahmahmood Miakhel, Country Director, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, Chairman, National Stability Society (NSS) and Halimullah Kousary, Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies (CAPS).
Pakistan was represented by Senator Afrasiab Khattak, Ambassador Riaz Mohammad Khan, Ambassador Ayaz Wazir, Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq, Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Ambassador Fauzia Nasreen, Ambassador Saeed Khalid, Lt. Gen. (R) Ghulam Mustafa, Tariq Khosa, Dr. Faisal Bari, Brig. (R) Asad Munir, Murtaza Solangi, Dr. Vaqar Ahmad and Javed Hasan Aly.
The issues separating the two countries are as simple or as complex as one would be inclined to making them. In actual effect, these are simpler than most may like to believe. The stalemate usually emanates from a surfeit of bloated egos clashing across tin roofs, thus creating an unbearable crescendo of noise which signifies nothing except an unwillingness to make a move to less noisy places.
The principal take-away markers from the dialogue encompass the following:
- The war in Afghanistan has no winners and negotiations provide the only way forward.
- There is a need for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
- Now seems to be the best time for initiating negotiations.
- The peace talks should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and held with or without mediators/facilitators inside Afghanistan.
- All stakeholders should be on board. No division within either side’s ranks.
Some delegates expected that there could be further short-term escalation with peace talks following inevitably thereafter.
It was also agreed that peace will come only when there is mutual acceptance of a strategic stalemate and the parties are seriously looking for plausible alternatives – peace talks being the top option on the list.
Pakistan’s role in initiating the peace dialogue was discussed in great detail. It was generally agreed that its capacity to deliver the Taliban has been vastly overstated. In fact, no one country has the ability to do so. Consequently, it has to be a combined effort by all countries which are interested in the advent of peace in the region.
It was also stressed that both Pakistan and Afghanistan needed to clean up their houses and devise coherent and sustainable policies in dealing with a myriad challenges they face. That implied cohesion within all echelons of the respective governments in the two countries.
The role of the emerging players in the region, most notably China, Russia and Iran, also came under discussion. It was generally agreed that China could be a key constituent in facilitating the peace process because of its growing economic and political clout.
US’s strategic fatigue and its consequent inability/unwillingness to lead the way to peace was a subject of debate. A regional approach emerged as a preferred option for achieving the desired objectives.
In the context of the two combative neighbours, maximum stress was laid on developing a bilateral mindset and mechanism to address and resolve the disagreements. Remaining stuck in the past left little space to move forward and there was a need to build trust by encouraging small initiatives at multiple levels rather than waiting for the big breakthrough.
Discouraging the use of their space against the other country was a recurrent theme at the conference and it was agreed that this should be ensured. The Afghan delegates strongly dispelled the impression that their country was, in any manner, a party to the attempts to isolate Pakistan. They went on to reassure that Afghanistan’s close ties with India should not be a deterrent to good relations with Pakistan.
Afghan Ambassador Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal was forthright in stating that both countries have contributed to the existent state of relations and both countries needed to rectify it.
He went on to say that peace in Pakistan was dependent on peace in Afghanistan and vice versa. Instead of depending on other countries’ help, Afghanistan and Pakistan needed to formulate a sustainable bilateral mechanism to facilitate good neighbourliness. He strongly underlined that people in the two countries desired peace.
He also said that steps should not be taken that would inconvenience the two people, thus causing further misunderstandings.
This, by and large, is the entire palate of problems and possible prognoses. The ruling elites across the divide have been aware of it. Why is it then that the two countries have not been able to move on the path to reconciliation and cooperation? Is it that some institutions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are actually hampering the growth of relations as was opined by some at the conference?
The need is for the two governments to deal with the malaise within their ranks to pave the way for initiating productive bilateral engagement. That may be the only course to salvation for Afghanistan and Pakistan.