June 12, 2018
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, traveled to Afghanistan Tuesday, where his high-powered delegation held talks with President Ashraf Ghani on bilateral and matters related to Afghan peacemaking efforts.
A presidential spokesman in Kabul confirmed the talks but did not immediately share details.
Bajwa undertook the day-long visit to Kabul on Ghani’s invitation.
“Pakistan wishes to see [the Afghan] National Unity Government and U.S. – NATO succeeding to bring peace in Afghanistan,” said Pakistan army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
Islamabad’s strained ties with Kabul have improved in recent days, with both the uneasy neighboring countries agreeing to a comprehensive dialogue framework to strengthen mutual security and economic ties to jointly promote Afghan and regional peace efforts.
Tuesday’s visit by General Bajwa happened on a day when the Afghan government began unilaterally observing a week-long cease-fire in a bid to seek a negotiated resolution to the 17-year-old war with the Taliban.
The insurgent group has also, for the first time, announced it will stop attacks on Afghan forces during three-day festivities of Eid-al Fitr starting Friday. The festival marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Pakistan is widely perceived to have maintained ties with Taliban leaders, who have their families and relatives living among nearly three million Afghan refugees the country still hosts.
Army spokesman Ghafoor has offered to use “whatever leverage” Islamabad has to try to get Afghan insurgents to the negotiating table for peacefully terminating the war, although he insisted the leverage has been receding with each passing day.
“The Afghan Taliban cannot conquer Kabul militarily, but no force can eliminate all of them either to bring peace to Afghanistan. So, there has to be a midway to achieve a political reconciliation acceptable to all sides,” Ghafoor noted.
However, he rejected U.S. and Afghan allegations the Taliban is using Pakistani soil for plotting attacks inside Afghanistan.
A surprise phone call by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the Pakistani military chief last week confirmed the two countries have resumed joint efforts for a peaceful resolution to the increasingly deadly Afghan conflict.
Bilateral relations deteriorated after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his South Asia strategy in August, blaming Pakistan’s covert support for enabling the Taliban to increase violence and influence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has long maintained there can be no military solution to the war in Afghanistan,” said Mushahid Hussain, who heads the foreign affairs committee of the Pakistani upper house of parliament.
“Our position now has been vindicated,” he told VOA. “… The U.S., which tried to bully and browbeat Pakistan, has now taken a deep breath backwards and they feel that Pakistan should be engaged and Pakistan’s cooperation is indeed vital.”
Lisa Curtis, a deputy assistant to Trump and senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, later explained the nature of renewed engagement with Pakistan.
“We have asked for Pakistan’s assistance in facilitating a peace process and we have sought to understand Pakistan’s own core security concerns and ensure that its interests are taken into account in any peace process,” Curtis told a seminar at Washington’s U.S. Institute of Peace.
Pakistani officials say while their influence has receded, Russia and Iran, in the meantime, have increased diplomatic contacts with the Taliban to promote peace efforts to prevent terrorist groups, including Islamic State, from expanding their influence in Afghanistan.