The news on the Afghan front have been rife with interesting developments. The string of events have given rise to speculation; at the same time raising hopes and aspirations for a peaceful solution as the United States troops and NATO prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. These events have enabled the United States to re-design its foreign policy towards the region under a new direction. Following are some highlights:
• Pakistan held talks with Afghanistan’s High Peace Council in Islamabad. This move is being viewed as a breakthrough in the stalled Afghan peace process before the proposed withdrawal of U.S. led NATO troops in 2014. Afghanistan has welcomed Pakistan’s promise of full cooperation to carry forward the peace process. Pakistan has agreed to release several members of the Afghan Taliban held in its prisons to facilitate the talks between insurgents and the government of Afghanistan. The release of these prisoners has taken place on the request of the Afghan authorities to give the peace process a chance to succeed.
• The joint statement by the two governments said Islamabad and Kabul would work together to have potential Taliban negotiators removed from the UN sanctions blacklist and cooperate with the United States to facilitate safe passage for the negotiators.
• Preliminary contacts between the United States and the Taliban in Doha (Qatar) broke off in March when the militants failed to secure the release of five of their comrades in Guantanamo Bay.
• United States Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson has welcomed initiation of the peace process between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He said the U.S. appreciated that the Pakistan government invited the High Peace Council from Afghanistan for peace talks.
• Afghanistan has asked Pakistan to release more Taliban detainees in its custody so that they can be induced to enter into negotiations to end the eleven years old war. Pakistan had earlier released nine Taliban leaders, a move seen by Kabul as a positive step towards reconciliation with the militants. Afghan officials have long requested Pakistan for the release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban’s former deputy leader.
• A roadside bomb in Afghanistan killed ten civilians including a woman and five children. The Taliban militants fighting Afghan forces and 100,000 NATO troops, use roadside bombs as their weapon of choice. While Taliban claim that their targets are military, it is usually the civilians using the same roads who fall victim to their terrorist activities.
The release of the Taliban leaders is a positive step towards reconciliation and a peace settlement in Afghanistan. The release of the Taliban leaders indicates a more flexible shift in Pakistan’s position but it does not mean that the process will be a smooth sailing for the Afghan authorities. The Taliban leaders must be able to act effectively to bring the other militant factions on the negotiating table.
At the same time, political stability in Afghanistan is crucial as withdrawal of the foreign forces nears. It is time for the United States, NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan to strengthen their cooperation and accelerate efforts for a durable and peaceful reconciliation.
Dawn News Nov 14, 2012
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