The longest war in American history is the US war in Afghanistan and it has already lasted more than twice as long as World War II. There is a diplomatic consensus that Pakistan holds the key to peace in Afghanistan. So it comes as no surprise when the Zalmay Khalilzad–notorious neo-con oilman, known Zionist supporter and CIA asset—led peace process once again draws near failure having excluded both Pakistan as well as America’s puppet regime in Afghanistan.
The choice of Zalmay Khalilzad as a U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan raised hackles in the region. It seemed as if the Trump administration has given up any hope of a negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taliban. His anti- Pakistan stance was a known hinderance in his mission to convince a resurgent Taliban to engage in peace talks. In the past, Khalilzad has called on the U.S. to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, saying it harbors insurgents.
The Trump administration has embraced a similar position, recently suspending $300 million in aid to Pakistan, saying it isn’t doing enough to eliminate Taliban safe havens on its territory. Naming Khalilzad as point man in this process belied the US intent to fail. An ostensible sense of urgency by the United States purportedly prompted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s frustration with the lack of progress in the war, cannot dictate the end to a conflict that was too complicated to yield quick breakthroughs.
An enduring peace deal is obviously unlikely as Pakistan and the US remain diplomatically estranged. The Trump team knows this and yet continues to repeat old failed efforts, including wooing the Taliban. That Khalilzad will blame this failure upon Pakistan is also no secret. But the failure of his purported peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar has effectively revived the Great Game in Afghanistan. US foreign policy has been driving Russia, China and Iran to support the Taliban in a bid to tie down American forces in Afghanistan. This has been accomplished with a clandestine use of punitive sanctions and tariffs that also targeted Pakistan. For Pakistan, it all began with that senseless Tweet by President Donald Trump wherein he berated the long-time ally of the United States of America.
India is the key consternation that frustrates Pakistan. The US-Taliban direct talks would marginalise India’s role in Afghanistan. It is no secret that India is in Afghanistan because the US ushered it in following its attack and takeover of Afghanistan in 2001 because of its known animosity to Pakistan. The US is clearly willing to keep a contention going to secure a status quo in Afghanistan. A peace deal is not possible as long as Pakistan is not on board. The Trump team knows this and yet is seeking to repeat Obama-era failed efforts, including wooing the Taliban.
Khalilzad also visited the region in October. He started in Kabul last week before heading to Pakistan with the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin Scott Miller. He was again visiting the region from November 8 to 20 and was scheduled to visit Pakistan this Saturday. However, his visit was canceled as this clashed with the scheduled visit of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister to Malaysia. He was planning to meet the civil and military leadership. Spokesperson for the Foreign Office Dr. Mohammad Faisal told the media that “Khalilzad’s visit to Pakistan is a positive step toward efforts for peace in Afghanistan.” He said that Pakistan is willing to extend support for a settlement in the war-torn country but the US needs to understand that Pakistan has little influence over the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan released two Taliban officials on Monday, November 12 to facilitate the US envoy’s latest visit to the region. Abdul Samad Sani, a U.S.-designated terrorist who served as the Afghan Central Bank governor during the militants’ rule in the late 1990s, and a lower-ranking commander named Salahuddin, were released Monday. This was Khalilzad’s second regional tour since being appointed with stops in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates as well as Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office. The insurgents met Khalilzad in Qatar last month. When Khalilzad was last in the region Pakistan released another Taliban leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founders of the radical religious movement. Baradar was arrested in 2010 in a joint U.S. and Pakistani operation. At the time, it was reported Baradar was taken into custody by Pakistan after he tried to open independent peace talks with Afghanistan’s then-president, Hamid Karzai. Baradar’s release has been a long-standing demand of the Taliban.
Chairman Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Mushahid Hussain is on record saying the choice of Khalilzad was unwelcome news and did not bode well for U.S. attempts to end the Afghan conflict. “Zalmay Khalilzad’s appointment is a bad choice and sends a negative message to Islamabad when Washington badly needs Pakistan’s cooperation for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said. “He is known as a Pakistan-hater, who has been unable to rise beyond his prejudices against Pakistan.”
The Taliban today control large swaths of the country. In a report released Thursday, Washington’s own Special Inspector General on Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said the government has ceded even more territory to insurgents and now controls just over 50 percent of the country.
Ostensibly, the United States wants Pakistan to put more pressure on the Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table. The Afghan government is not capable of defeating the Taliban insurgency and taking back the territory currently held by the Taliban. The Afghan security forces will collapse immediately Without American firepower. And Khalilzad has no game plan for any practical peace offer nor has the Ashraf Ghani-led Afghan government presented any proposals that could bring peace to the war torn country.
Geopolitical dynamics have become more complicated than ever before: Regional rivalries are not confined between
just the United States and Russia or between India and Pakistan. China and Iran have also become active players. Moscow wants to see and end to Taliban using means other than militarily. Iran, however, stands to lose if the Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan. However, for Iran, Taliban are also a potential ally in case of an open confrontation with the United States. China does not want the Taliban to get emboldened since Beijing fears
Taliban support to Uyghur insurgents. China’s biggest interest in Afghanistan is to ensure that the country does not become a breeding ground for jihadist extremism which could spread over to Xinjiang province. The Chinese desire to ensure American departure from Afghanistan have made it work closely with Pakistan holds the Taliban deserves a significant share of power. There are no indications that Khalilzad has even tried to navigate any of these geopolitical tangles.
But it is Pakistan’s enmity with India makes Khalilzad’s mission in Afghanistan untenable. India’s only role in Afghanistan has been to frustrate Pakistan. Ever since its creation in 1947, India has sought to counter the Pakistani influence over Afghanistan. New Delhi wants Pakistan kept away from Kabul and wants Afghanistan to remain estranged from Pakistan. Using one pretext or another, India continues to seek a role in Afghanistan insisting that Kabul cannot have close ties with Islamabad. India remains the number one enemy and Indian involvement in Afghanistan remains in competition with Pakistan.
Pakistan has been trying hard to convince the United States to eliminate the Indian role in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s concern is that India uses its presence in Afghanistan to stir trouble in Balochistan. The Trump administration has openly praised India’s role in Afghanistan. It is impossible for Pakistan to deal with India’s contrived paranoia and the aggravating American support to Indian role in Afghanistan. India has no say in the Afghanistan reconciliation process. It cannot convincingly argue for a formal place in such a process. Yet New Delhi’s engagement with Khalilzad and his team has remained a substantive one.
The Trump administration needs to realise that military victory in Afghanistan is not possible. Neighboring countries like Pakistan and China need to be involved too as they will bear the brunt of any fallout from an end to active hostilities in Afghanistan. The country right now is in a military stalemate where the Taliban are too strong to be defeated but not powerful enough to dislodge the government. The only way of breaking that stalemate is through further talks.
The Trump administration is attempting to force Pakistan’s hand by using the same methods that have been tried—with little success—before. On September 1, the Trump administration cut off $300 million in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to Pakistan citing its failure to act against terrorists. US Secretary of State and former CIA Director Generation Mike Pompeo met the Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. Pompeo said after the meetings that the talks focused on the opportunity to “reset” the bilateral relationship. Khalilzad participated in those meetings.
Making Pakistan’s frustration over his appointment public, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi could not stop himself from urging Khalilzad to be more sensitive to Pakistani opinion that he has been so far. According to Qureshi, the negative reaction in Pakistan to Khalilzad is because of the fact that he “has made statements in the past which have not been, to be put it mildly, very friendly to Pakistan… I would urge him to be more sensitive to opinion in Pakistan… Once you have an official position you have to be more restrained.”
Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been further strained. Little progress was achieved during Qureshi’s meetings with Pompeo and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton during his recently-concluded 10-day visit to Washington. There was not even a joint statement issued after the foreign minister-level talks.
This indicates that there has been no rapprochement between Pakistan and the United States. Khalilzad’s peace negotiations are nothing more than a front purporting to negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan government that remains beholden to the United States of America.
Khalid Hussain is Resident Editor of TLTP – You may contact Khalid Hussain at Resident.Editor@tltpnews.com.pk
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