Turkey was able to facilitate a meeting between the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, accompanied by their Ministers and Army Chiefs, only a few days after the head of Afghanistan’s Intelligence Agency was wounded by a suicide bomber in Kabul. This attack was almost a carbon copy of last year’s assassination of the head of Afghan High Peace Council, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani. In both these killings, Afghanistan had pointed fingers at Pakistan. Turkish President Abdullah Gul described the bombing as an attempt to derail the dialogue between the two countries. It is a blessing that after each attempt of derailing, Turkey is always forthcoming to take the initiative for re-railing the process.
Those not wishing peace in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan are making concerted efforts to create, sustain and strengthen cleavages of all sorts. Certainly, it is not an act of God that whenever any peace initiative begins to gather momentum, there is either a high-profile assassination or a high-pitch terrorist activity, resulting in disruption of effort.
At the end of a meeting in Ankara aimed at easing recent tensions and increasing cooperation between the governments in Kabul and Islamabad, President Gul said both had “renewed trust and are determined to work together.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the two leaders had “very good conversations.......Hopefully, the fight against extremism and terrorism will take itself to a conclusion where the populations of the two countries are not threatened by these attacks.......The environment of dialogue is better than it has been.......we are seeing unfortunate incidents of terrorism both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
In the same vein, Pakistani President Asif Zardari said: “They (terrorists) don’t want us, the governments, to get together and to be able to lead the nations to peace.......It is in the interest of Pakistan that Afghanistan prospers. It is in my interest that peace returns to Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to jointly investigate the assassination attempt on the National Security Director of Afghanistan.
Under these trying circumstances, Turkey has been playing a vital role for keeping Afghanistan and Pakistan form falling apart. Relationship between these two countries is tricky, yet essential; it is slippery, yet its maintainability is the only option. Peace in Pakistan is indispensible for sustainable peace in Afghanistan and vice versa. Hence, peace in both the countries is a joint enterprise requiring a joint effort.
The Trilateral summit always help in bridging the perceptional gaps between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Besides fire-fighting functions, this forum has quietly covered a lot of space for evolving a robust and sustainable relationship between the two countries at the bilateral level as well as the trilateral tier. So this event has become a hub-centre for coordinating the efforts of other sister forums impacting the three countries.
The Trilateral Summit process has made valuable contribution toward the dialogue and cooperation among the three countries through its seven meetings since 2007. It is taking a holistic view of the long-term prospects of cooperation between them, including economic cooperation, connectivity, border management, drugs menace, human trafficking, disaster management etc.
The Trilateral Trade Council setup during the seventh summit will allow the three countries to bring their trade institutions closer in order to realise the full potential in economic and trade partnership. Especially, this would help Afghanistan’s transition from a war and drug economy to a conventional financial system.
The seventh summit also reviewed the commitments made by the international community to the future of Afghanistan in the Bonn, Chicago and Tokyo Conferences held since the sixth Trilateral Summit. The three Presidents reiterated their determination to intensify the cooperation among their countries in the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation efforts, and address the security challenges affecting the region. They expressed their resolve to foster connectivity among the institutions of their countries; the concept of hotline communication system among the presidential offices is a concrete example in this regard.
While speaking at a joint news conference, President Zardari said both Pakistan and Afghanistan have “suffered from terrorism and the latest attack on the Afghan Intelligence Chief was part of the design to undermine our joint efforts for its elimination. As extremists are facing defeat at our hands, they are reacting by launching attacks against individuals and personalities. It is in the interest of Pakistan that Afghanistan prospers and the Silk Route opens.” Further adding: “Pakistan has long been hosting the Afghan refugees and they would go back to their country only if there is a peaceful Afghanistan.”
Turkish President Gul while addressing the press conference said that “all the three sides agreed to promote trade interaction among them.” He urged the need for a joint struggle of the regional countries to eliminate terrorism. He said: “Terrorism is not the problem of any one country. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey are committed to the peace process in Afghanistan.”
Likewise, President Karzai said that “all the three sides had important interaction for improving mutual coordination”, adding that, “the trilateral arrangement is proving better for improving relations among them.” “Promises made for peace, stability, and economic development of the region will have to be materialised so that extremism and terrorism do not threaten the regional countries,” he maintained.
The recent weeks were jam-packed with various sets of negotiations and consultative modules, pertaining to peace processes in Afghanistan. In most of these callisthenics, the discredited actors were proverbially jockeying in circles of no joy; stereotypically, looking busy, doing nothing. The US and Western nations, having their troops in Afghanistan, have long abandoned the notion of defeating the Taliban militarily and have reluctantly thrown their weight behind negotiations with the select groups of militants to end the fighting.
The insurgents’ ability of striking in the heart of Kabul and other urban centres, at a place and timing of their choosing, speaks for itself. Stealthy talks are going on at various levels between the occupation forces and the Taliban representatives for the revival of peace in Afghanistan before the ‘Runaway Ceremony’ (to be called the ‘Historic Victory’). The US, the UK and Nato/Isaf are making hectic efforts in the name of restoration of peace in Afghanistan. Most of the efforts are, nonetheless, erratic, with no sense of direction.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to strike a deal with the political resistance groups at the earliest. During his recent visit to Brussels, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani gave Pakistan’s perspective on the Afghan endgame. He urged all players to reach a peace deal with the Taliban during the next year in order to avoid any chaos at the time of the withdrawal of the foreign forces from the war-torn country. Pakistan has recently sent strong signals that it would support the Afghan government’s efforts to draw the Taliban factions into negotiations.
With a track record of honesty of purpose, the Turkish leadership enjoys unique credibility amongst the governments and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Being a part of the Nato/Isaf, Turkey could effectively act as a link between the foreign forces and the Afghan political resistance groups. Turkey is the most suitable place to set up a political office of the Taliban and also facilitate the process of reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan. The Trilateral Summit process stands unique among other Afghan related initiatives. Avoiding tall claims and self-projecting galas, this forum is making consistent contributions toward a peaceful Afghanistan.
The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.