October 3, 2020
Pakistani officials recently had a golden opportunity to provide Afghan counterparts a glimmer of hope that a ceasefire with the Taliban was a possibility. A gesture of any sort would have been uplifting, considering the militant group has shown no signs that they will let up on their offensives inside Afghanistan, despite the fact they are several weeks into supposed peace talks with Kabul.
When talks in Doha kicked off in early September the Afghan delegation put forth as a reasonable goal the securement of a cessation in hostilities. However, almost a month had gone by before the negotiations hit an impasse for yet untold reasons, with little progress on the ground.
In fact, on September 27, the Afghan defense ministry said the Taliban had launched terror attacks in 24 of the country’s 34 provinces within a 24-hour period. It almost seems like the campaign was deliberately designed to illustrate what the exact opposite of a ceasefire looks like.
On the same day, in what was perhaps not a coincidence, the Taliban celebrated the anniversary of the 1996 fall of Kabul. In a statement, the movement expressed joy about the expulsion of the foreign invader and the coming end to the “current rule” in Afghanistan.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan congratulates its persecuted and Mujahid nation on the occasion of this historic day and bears glad tidings about the near approach of times when our country shall once again celebrate days of freedom and liberation from presence of invaders and the current rule. So, let us all show resolve for the future of attaining the lofty goal of our nation with the establishment of a pure Islamic government, Allah willing and nothing is hard for Allah the Almighty,” the statement posted on the militant group’s official website, the Voice of Jihad, said.
This all comes as an Afghan peace delegation, led by Abdullah Abdullah, made a 3-day visit to Pakistan. During his trip, Abdullah said he asked Pakistan’s military leaders to use their influence to press the insurgents to reduce violence.
Mohammad Umer Daudzai, President Ghani’s special envoy to Pakistan, was not convinced that Islamabad was interested in a complete halt to the attacks.
“They [The Pakistanis] were saying that ways should be sought to agree on a reduction in violence, but they did not focus on a ceasefire,” Daudzai said after the meeting with Pakistani leaders as quoted by Tolo News on September 30.
The headquarters of Afghan Taliban central, it is worth nothing, is located in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Pakistani elements, in fact, helped to create the group in the first place during the early 1990s. It is no secret that Islamabad and Rawalpindi have sway with the Afghan militant group. At such a pivotal moment, it is unfortunate – but not surprising – that Pakistan refused to let the words “ceasefire” emanate from their lips in any way.
Instead, they relayed messages that seemed warm but were mostly empty. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during a co-presser with Abdullah assured Afghanistan of Islamabad’s full support for the Afghan peace process.
“Security and stability is what we need and our security and stability is interlinked. I want to give a clear message: We have no favorites [and] do not want to meddle in your internal affairs. We respect and want to respect your sovereignty, your independence and your territorial integrity,” Qureshi said in the briefing on September 29.
The foreign minister, quoting the title of the book by former president Ayub Khan, said Pakistan wants to be “friends not masters” of Afghanistan.
It is hard to determine the extent to which the Pakistanis are calling the shots. It is always possible that the Taliban are in the driver’s seat at this point in the game. However, a theory with more explanatory power might be that perhaps the co-conspirators are wise enough not to make any premature moves as the U.S. hits the exit doors. The Wilson Center’s Michael Kugelman captures the crux of the situation adeptly.
“The Taliban has ample leverage in peace talks because it has the luxury of time,” Kugelman told Aljazeera in a piece published on October 2. “It knows that US troops are leaving, so it has the option of simply waiting out the Americans until they’re gone, before capitalizing on a major battlefield advantage. In essence, the Taliban will soon enough have the option of trying to seize total power by force instead of trying to obtain partial power by negotiations.”
To recapitulate, then. The Taliban are refusing to even consider a ceasefire. Pakistan is unwilling to even press them on it. The Americans will have almost all their forces withdrawn within months. Talks are, mysteriously, on a hiatus. And the Taliban just launched a terror offensive across more than 70 percent of the country’s provinces.
From all this one could safely conclude that Pakistan will not be turning the heat off anytime soon.