By Sajjad Shaukat for Veterans Today
In a ceremony which was attended by notables from Russia, China, Qatar and other key players, including the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Doha-the capital of Qatar on February 29, this year, the US and the Taliban have signed the historical agreement for bringing peace to Afghanistan after more than 18 years of conflict.
The deal was signed by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar with Pompeo as a witness.
In the agreement, it is committed that within the first 135 days of the deal, the US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 from the current 13,000, working with its other NATO allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces over that period. If the Taliban adhere to their security guarantees and ceasefire, a full withdrawal of all US and coalition forces would occur within 14 months.
Under the agreement, the Taliban also agreed not to allow Al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control. It was also agreed that Afghan soil will not be used as a launching-pad to conduct attacks on Afghan and Western forces.
The deal also provides for a prisoner swap. Some 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners would be exchanged by 10 March , when talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are due to start.
Addressing the media after the signing ceremony, US Secretary of State Pompeo expressed his gratitude for facilitating the peace process by saying: “To Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Pakistan, we thank you for your efforts in helping reach these historic agreements and make clear our expectation that you will continue to do your part to promote a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan so that the country and region can reap the benefits of lasting peace.”
In his speech, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar also acknowledged Islamabad’s role in realizing the landmark peace deal and thanked Pakistan for “its efforts, work, and assistance.” He also thanked China, Qatar, Russia and other international players who provided assistance in bringing an end to America’s longest and deadliest war, raising hopes for peace in the strife-torn country.
Speaking about the deal, US President Donald Trump, who had promised to end the Afghan conflict, said on March 1, 2020, that it was “time to bring our people back home…5,000 US troops would leave Afghanistan by May and he would meet Taliban leaders in the near future.”
During his two-day visit to India (February 24 and 25), hinting towards Islamabad’s efforts for the US-Taliban talks, President Trump said: “Our relationship with Pakistan is a very good one. Thanks to these efforts, we are beginning to see signs of big progress with Pakistan and we are hopeful for reduced tensions, greater stability and the future of harmony for all of the nations of South Asia.” In fact, it was in knowledge of Trump that the US and the Taliban will sign a peace accord in Doha on February 29, 2020.
The agreement, culminated after 16 months of talks between the US negotiators and the Taliban, while Pakistan has played a key role in this regard. Despite hurdles, the fifth round of peace talks, which started between the US interlocutors and the Taliban in the Doha on February 25, last year, was making progress gradually.
During various meetings followed marathon negotiations since January 2019, which saw the US and the Taliban walked away with a draft framework on the two issues. America had insisted on a ceasefire and the opening of a dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government whom the former considered puppet regime of the US-led Western countries. However, the Taliban repeatedly rejected the demands, while Washington suspended the continuation of the talks after a major attack on a joint US-Afghan base in southwestern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, which occurred on March 1, 2020.
Since Khalilzad started his efforts to convince the Taliban to have direct talks with the US, Pakistan had been playing a major, as Islamabad succeeded in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. Zalmay Khalilzad who repeatedly visited Pakistan and met the civil and military leadership, including the country’s Foreign Minister Quershi and Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, admired Pakistan’s role in the US-Taliban peace dialogue.
In this respect, while giving a briefing to the US Senate Armed Services Committee on March 8, 2019, the head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) General Joseph Votel had lauded Pakistan’s role for maintaining peace and stability in the region. The General elaborated, “We have had some success with Pakistan, they’ve been more helpful in terms of bringing the Taliban to the [Peace negotiating] table…positive steps [Of Pakistan] to assist Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in support of Afghanistan reconciliation by facilitating talks with the Taliban.”
It is notable that it was the part of “Bajwa Doctrine” which has compelled America to resolve the Afghan issue through dialogue, as peace in Afghanistan has co-relationship with peace in the region, including Pakistan.
It is mentioned that during a three-day visit to the US, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan met American President Donald Trump on July 22, 2019, in a push to mend the strained relations between Islamabad and Washington. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and General Qamar Javed Bajwa also accompanied the premier.
Talking to Prime Minister Khan, President Trump offered to mediate in the Kashmir dispute between nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India. Regarding the Afghan peace process, Trump said: “The US appreciates Pakistan’s help in its efforts for bringing peace to Afghanistan” and “is seeking help from Pakistan to extricate the US from the long war in Afghanistan”. Unlike his previous blame game that Pakistan was providing “safe haven to terrorists”, President Trump stated that they greatly helped in curbing extremism.
Again, during his visit to New York City in relation to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Imran Khan met President Trump on September 23, 2020. Prime Minister Imran pressed Donald Trump to restart dialogue with Afghanistan’s Taliban. He stated at the start of the meeting that “stability in Afghanistan means stability in Pakistan.” In response, President Trump did not ask P.M. Imran not to help in restarting America’s talks with the Taliban.
It is regrettable that less than 24 hours after the US-Taliban landmark deal, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected prisoner swap with the Taliban. In this context, he told reporters on March 1, this year: “The reduction in violence will continue with a goal to reach a full ceasefire…
There is no commitment to releasing 5,000 prisoners…This is the right and the self-will of the people of Afghanistan. It could be included in the agenda of the intra-Afghan talks, but cannot be a prerequisite for talks…Any prisoner release is not in the authority of the US”, but “in the authority of the Afghan government.” An estimated 10,000 captured Taliban are being held in Afghanistan.
On the other side, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated on March 2, 2010, that the Taliban would not hold peace talks with the Afghan government if 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the government were not released. He also elaborated that the Taliban would resume fighting Afghan forces, but would not target international troops.
Meanwhile, the media reported a series of attacks across Afghanistan, while President Trump, again, stated on March 2, this year, that the US is “getting out” of Afghanistan after over 18 years of war, seemingly regardless of what comes next.”
In fact, President Ghani and India which is also feeling the pinch of the US-Taliban peace deal are trying to sabotage it for their collective interests at the cost of Afghan people, Pakistan, and regional stability.
President Ashraf Ghani thinks that if the US-led NATO forces which are well-equipped with latest arms failed in coping with the Taliban fighters, as to how Afghan forces can encounter them. Therefore, he wants that NATO forces should continue their presence in the country.
Similarly, New Delhi which does not intend to see peace in Afghanistan and is undermining regional stability by creating unrest in Afghanistan also wants the presence of the NATO forces in that country.
India is destabilizing the regional countries in general and Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular in order to obtain its secret designs, aimed at augmenting Indian hegemony in the region. New Delhi is foiling the peace process between Afghanistan and Pakistan by managing terrorist attacks like the recent assaults in both countries.
However, Indian RAW which is in connivance with Israeli Mossad has well-established its network in Afghanistan and has been fully assisting cross-border incursions and terror-activities in various regions of Pakistan through Baloch separatist elements and anti-Pakistan groups like Jundullah and Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including their affiliated outfits.
They also abducted and killed many Chinese and Iranian nationals. RAW is making efforts to weaken Afghanistan, Tibetan regions of China, Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan and particularly Balochistan province of Pakistan by arranging the subversive activities, promoting an acrimonious sense of dissent, sectarian violence and arousing sentiments of separatism.
It is noteworthy that New Delhi which has already invested billions of dollars in Afghanistan also signed a wide-ranging strategic agreement with that country on October 5, 2011. And, the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai had also signed another agreement with India to obtain Indian arms and weapons. While, under the cover of these agreements, India has further strengthened its grip in Afghanistan. By taking advantage of the lawlessness in Afghanistan, India is up to its usual tirade to foment an environment by conducting terrorist attacks in that country to prove that Pakistan is creating trouble for Afghanistan.
It is worth mentioning that Pakistan’s former Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif accompanied by the DG of ISI went to Kabul on December 17, 2014. During his meeting with his Afghan counterpart, President Ashraf Ghani and the ISAF commander, he presented the evidence of linkage between the massacre of children at Peshawar school and TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
Indian desperation in Afghanistan was increasing in the backdrop of growing engagements of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, and US.
Besides, New Delhi is trying to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Recent terror attacks in Pakistan and Balochistan might be noted as an example. In this connection, Indian backed Baloch secessionists have been directed to step up their activities on the CPEC project. RAW has created a heavily funded China-Pakistan specific desk to target growing Pak-China-Afghanistan relations.
In this respect, in the recent past, cordial relations were established between Islamabad and Kabul when Afghan President Ghani had realized that Afghanistan and Pakistan were facing similar challenges of terrorism and would combat this threat collectively.
While, it is a misfortune that on the direction of New Delhi and as the former regime of Afghan President Karzai, Afghanistan’s present rulers have also started accusing Pakistan of cross-border terrorism. In this context, after hours of the Taliban captured Kunduz city, on September 28, 2015, during his address to the UNO General Assembly, Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah blamed Islamabad for carrying out cross-border attacks and destabilizing Afghanistan. In the recent past, President Ashraf Ghani also accused Islamabad of terror attacks in Afghanistan.
In the case of Afghanistan, there are several groups of Al-Qaeda, ISIS (Daesh) and Taliban like the TTP. Some of them are being used by secret agencies such as Mossad and RAW to obtain the collective and individual designs of their countries against Pakistan and Middle Eastern countries. New Delhi and Israel which want to prolong the stay of the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan are exploiting the dual policy of America against Pakistan, China, Russia, and Iran.
It is of particular attention that when the US former President Barrack Obama had decided to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan by announcing the schedule, before his trip to Washington in 2009, the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stated that he would encourage the American leadership to stay in Afghanistan.
In fact, in connivance with the then-President Hamid Karzai, New Delhi wanted to prolong the stay of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. They knew that, in case, the US-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Karzai regime will fall like a house of cards. Even India would not be in a position to maintain its network in the wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban.
With the help of TTP and Afghan secret agency Khad, RAW started acting upon dirty tricks to get the foreign forces—especially those of America entangled in Afghanistan permanently. In this connection, with the assistance of some so-called Muslims, these secret agencies increased attacks inside Afghanistan, particularly targeting American soldiers with the sole aim to revive the old blame game of the US against Islamabad and Pakistan’s primary intelligence agency ISI in relation to cross-border-terrorism. However, New Delhi and Kabul succeeded when the US disclosed that it would maintain reasonable contingency in Afghanistan after 2014.
Notably, regarding Indian activities in Afghanistan the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal had pointed out: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.”
The peace deal between the US and Taliban is likely to render Indian investments in Afghanistan and intelligence setups and proxy support against Pakistan ineffective. It will suit Indian designs if Afghanistan does not move towards peace and keeps simmering. So, Afghan people should need to realize that New Delhi which has sponsored trained and propagated all anti-Afghanistan and anti-Pakistan elements such as Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), ISIS, TTP and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) to destabilize both Afghanistan and Pakistan are likely to sabotage the US-Taliban peace agreement.
Afghans must also take cognizance of the fact that pro-Indian President Ashraf Ghani will also try to sabotage the US-Taliban peace deal, as he wants the stay of NATO forces there.
It is mentioned that Pakistan’s Armed Forces and particularly Army have successfully broken the backbone of the foreign-backed terrorists by the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, while ISI has broken the network of these terrorist groups by capturing several militants and thwarting a number of terror attempts. Besides other provinces, peace has been restored in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In this respect, thousands of terrorists were killed and a huge quantity of explosives seized during the operations of the security agencies.
Nevertheless, in collaboration, RAW, NDS, TTP, Daesh and PTM are laying another ploy to revive a diminishing role. Taliban are working for an Islamic system, Indian Prime Minister Narendar Modi’s government is leading anti-Muslim campaign within India. This hypocrisy is itself an indicator of foul play in Afghanistan.
So, India and the Afghan government which wants to prolong the stay of NATO forces in Afghanistan are also playing a double game with America.
Especially, Washington must also be aware of the coming negative developments, which could create misunderstanding between America and the Taliban, as RAW and NDS can use some other terror outfits like TTP for targeting the military installations of the US and its allies and to shift the blame game towards those Taliban whose leader has signed peace deal with America.
These elements could also accuse Islamabad of cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan like the past approach because Washington and Islamabad have been promoting cordial relations owing to President Trump’s positive approach towards the latter.
RAW and anti-Pakistan elements could also manipulate the controversy between President Ashraf Ghani-the winner of the September 28 presidential election and his rival runner-up Abdullah Abdullah who served as Afghanistan’s chief executive for the past five years, questioned the fairness of the country’s electoral process.
Abdullah announced that he would be setting up a parallel government. His moves come ahead of possible intra-Afghan talks between the government and the Taliban aimed at reaching long-term peace.
About Author: Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: the US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations. Email: [email protected]