Breaking the Impasse

One of the most important objectives in foreign policy that Pakistan faces today is our role in the Afghan-American negotiations. If Pakistan can broker a successful peace between the United States and the Afghan factions, who have been at war with each other for the past eighteen years, it can boost Pakistan’s reputation at the international front and bring about much-needed stability in our northern areas. Unfortunately, the task is not as easy as it seems.

Even when the Taliban were finally ready to negotiate, and a meeting was scheduled to be held in Islamabad between US diplomats and Taliban representatives, there was negative pushback from the Afghan government. This has since led to an impasse in the talks- the Taliban, who had acquiesced to negotiating with the US, are not prepared to sit on the dialogue table with the Afghan government, and vice versa, and so the talks were delayed for a further month.

Pakistan will have an integral role to play in any new plan for a breakthrough. The new plans for breaking the protracted standstill in talks was shared recently by US Special Envoy for Reconciliation in Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Friday on his regional tour to discuss the developments in his efforts for Afghan reconciliation. On talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Foreign Secretary Tahmina Janjua and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa, the US special envoy has shared that the US envisions bringing together all Afghan factions, including the government and different segments of the society, and begin discussions on the lines of the Moscow Format.

It should not be surprising that the US wants to emulate the Moscow format, considering the Russian initiative in November was the closest we ever reached to a possible dialogue between different Afghan factions. Perhaps the key component that set the Moscow gathering apart was its emphasis on regional involvement- 11 countries were represented in the talks. While the Moscow format may not have broken the deadlock, it certainly melted some of the ice and paved the way for future negotiations.

If the US decides to go the route of negotiations framed in the style of the Moscow format, this means less involvement from the Afghan government directly and more from an inclusive group of regional powers. This would mean a more highlighted role of Pakistan than before, which would be an interesting test for our foreign policy.

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