In Afghanistan, since 2018, we have been witnessing a new trend of peace with the Taliban; as Zalmay Khalilzad has been appointed the US Special Representative for Peace in Afghanistan since September 2018, and a new round of talks with the Taliban has begun with Qatar playing the central role.
Although there had been sporadic attempts to negotiate with the Taliban since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, negotiations and the peace movement were followed with a greater intensity in 2018 with the presence of Taliban which led to the signing of a 2020 US-Taliban agreement. Although the terms of the agreement have not yet been implemented and differences remain, the ongoing pursuit of the participation of all players in this regard, including Pakistan’s active role in this round of negotiations, is noteworthy.
Obviously, the issue of the Taliban not only is one of the vital interests of Afghanistan, but also one of Pakistan’s fundamental interests; however, the interests of the two countries in this single issue are conflicting. Following Zalmay Khalilzad’s appointment, the United States called for Pakistan’s presence and help to advance the Taliban peace talks; a position that Pakistan has always sought and is considered an important advantage for the country, because Pakistan’s utopia is the coming to power of a Taliban government in Afghanistan under the will of Pakistan in order to maintain Pakistan’s strategic depth in the north and the west. On the other hand, the Afghan government has focused all its attention on the peace process which has not been in line with the current government in Kabul and still does not trust the Pakistani government.
Another issue goes back to the Kashmir region. August 2019 is an important date for the Kashmir region, as India revoked Kashmir autonomy and, despite strong protests from Pakistan and an emphasis on the international community’s adherence to the UN resolutions on Kashmir, India’s action was not met with a serious response. The abolition of autonomy came after a meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Trump in July 2019 when Trump raised the issue of mediation between India and Pakistan. There is no doubt that the dispute over Kashmir has been one of the main causes of the long-standing Delhi-Islamabad animosity, and the US domination over this issue and the subsequent abolition of autonomy cannot be considered accidental, as the US has entered a vital issue of the countries in the Indian subcontinent.
In addition, the Indo-Pakistani dispute was not limited to Kashmir, and with the US outlawing of the Balochistan Liberation Army in July 2019, another front of tensions between India and Pakistan became apparent, with Pakistan documenting India’s activities in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province and from the territories of its neighbors. In February 2019, Pakistan banned activities of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (Lashkar-e-Taiba successor after being outlawed) and arrested Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi in January 2021 because India blames the group for terrorist attacks in the country. It is worth noting that such actions, contrary to the demand of Pakistan and in accordance with the will of India or vice-versa, are not in the direction of convergence of the two countries, but are sparks that will facilitate future conflicts.
Therefore, efforts to continue the Taliban peace talks and the frequent and separate visits of the Taliban delegation and Khalilzad in various countries from China, India and Pakistan to Iran and Russia on the one hand and change in the Kashmir issue after more than 70 years should be considered as a conflict in the vital interests of the South Asian countries that are known today as the governments entangled with their own conflicts with each other.
At the same time, the issues and challenges of those governments are designed as such to be a means to control each other. The issue of mediation between India and Pakistan by the United States, although in line with Pakistan’s wishes and dreams, is contrary to India’s strategic policy in Kashmir. At the same time, abolition of Kashmir’s autonomy, which did not receive a serious response from the international community, undermined Pakistan’s interests in preserving Kashmir as the lifeblood of the country. The outlawing of the Baloch Liberation Army as a long-standing demand of Pakistan came true at a time when, unlike Kashmir, it was a concession to Pakistan. Let’s return to the peace with the Taliban; a process that is not of interest to the governments of Afghanistan and India, but is pursued seriously and with an active role by Pakistan. The sum of these contradictions can be considered at a specific period of time.
One of the reasons for those developments, which is reminiscent of the divisive and ruling policy of Britain during the years of colonization in the region, is the control of countries by each other; in the absence of an active presence in regional affairs, Pakistan will carry out terrorist and destructive operations that sometimes would undermine the interests of the West and the United States. Hence, Pakistan’s role in the regional and international arena has apparently increased.
Giving Pakistan a prominent place in regional issues such as Afghanistan, on the one hand, and playing a mediating role on the regional and international stage, such as mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as Iran and the United States, and more recently, China and the United States, on the other hand, are among such issues. But giving Pakistan that position, while pleasing the country, will be curbed by levers such as the abolition of Kashmir autonomy, strengthening of India-Israel-Middle East relations, fluctuations in the Taliban peace process and inclusion of Pakistan on the FATF gray list since 2018.
In general, issues that have plagued South Asian governments over the past two or three years are insurmountable. At the same time, interests of countries are in conflict with them. Kashmir is still the lifeblood of Pakistan and the Taliban is a major challenge for the Afghan government. Governments, therefore, have put all their efforts into managing those matters and have become very involved in their affairs. Just as Britain left the region by leaving old wounds on the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan, the United States has taken on the responsibility of sprinkling salt on those wounds, not healing them; the US, which is still the executive of British designs and Arab money, as the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said the same thing about the Taliban.