As Afghanistan continues its path of a formalized peace process, it's imperative to (re)visit the important role Pakistan plays in the overall impact and sustainability of such a venture. Afghanistan’s domestic politics has again become a competing ground for various national and international powerbrokers as is almost expected. Understandability, given the history of invasions and intervention in the land-locked country, has led to a present day, mismanaged, conflict-ridden, and simply confused nation, leading the peace process.
Whether the push for this process followed President Donald Trump’s mandate to withdraw troops from Afghanistan or the lack of success and compromise between the Taliban during the 18+ years of the intervention of the US. One thing is certain and critical to the success and sustainability of this process, Pakistan’s partnership. Regardless of the history between the two South Asian countries, it is indispensable the impact that a close, collaborated and transparent partnership between the two nations can lead to in the South Asia neighborhood.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated at the Afghan Peace Conference at the Lahore Center in June, "Pakistan’s perspective on Afghanistan is clear, we support an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself, and at peace with its neighbors”. This is something both Pakistani politicians have been saying time and time again and Afghan politicians simply listening to time and time again. The idea of building a bilateral relationship on the principles of non-interference, mutual respect, and common interest, require all these pieces in actionable form, which is the missing noteworthy piece in this peace process. Khalilzad, America’s special envoy for Afghanistan brought to Pakistan a clear message that Pakistan would need to change its policy towards Afghanistan if Islamabad intends to improve its relationship with Washington. But again, something which has been heard time and time again but followed by limited action.
There are a couple of proposed steps which can develop the needed actionable steps to a successful peace process. 1.) The first step of developing actionable steps is changing the narrative. Yes, Pakistan has suffered because of the Afghan conflict but as has Afghanistan suffered because of the instability in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas being the major theatre of militancy and terrorism in Pakistan. Both nations must move forward with the understanding and acceptance that due to mismanagement and political turmoil in both nations, has contributed to instability in the region. This change and acceptance in narrative alone can allow both nations to come to the table in acknowledgment of all problems and provide holistic solutions. In any successful relationship, a critical piece is trust. The history of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been brewed by mistrust and suspicion. 2.) Mistrust must end now and become a thing of the past. If North and South Korea can come together after decades of skepticism, why can’t the two Islamic Republics build this trust? 3.) The conversation should no longer be about what a nation can gain over another in contributing to the process. I.e. Pakistan can gain from the Afghan peace process. A gain for Pakistan is a gain for Afghanistan and at large for the South Asia region. The stable relationship between these two nations has guaranteed ripple effects of peace, solidarity, and forwardness for many nations in the region, including India, Iran and China. 4.) Lastly, the blame game must end. All the way from the politicians down to the citizens of both nations. I can’t recall how many conversations I have had with both Afghans and Pakistanis who have been so quick to blame the other side for the instability and atrocities faced in these two nations, more so Afghanistan. As an American-Pakistani, the narrative among Afghan-Americans and Pakistani-Americans is simply pointing the finger at the other side. What both don’t realize is as you point one finger at the other side, three fingers are pointing back at you. Who is to blame and what is to blame can no longer dominate the narrative of Afghan-Pakistani relations.
In Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to the nation after winning the 2018 election, he made clear and overt his commitment to fostering the relationship with Afghanistan (being of Pashtun ethnicity himself). This first declaration of such an important commitment requires going beyond a declaration. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani is set to visit Pakistan next week and the hope is for the commitments made by Prime Minister Khan to follow with actionable steps following there meeting. As the US makes its grand exit from Afghanistan, it seems that the peace process really entails other regional states such as China, Russia, but most important and critical, the active participation of Pakistan to work with local political groups, including the Taliban and the Afghan government to ensure that the looming transition remains peaceful through a sustainable partnership between the two neighbors.