Khan in Kabul, Bats For Durable Peace in the Region

UPDATED: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan today arrived in restive Afghanistan to bat and bowl with Kabul for shared vision and durable peace in the neighborhood –the two countries have a long common border and have had a somewhat blow-hot-and-blow-cold relationship for decades until lately.

It was Khan’s ‘historic’ first visit to Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani would plan a reciprocal visit to Islamabad in the first quarter of 2021, a source tells DesPardes.

The two neighbors aim for a new shared vision to help each other in furtherance of peace and stability in both their countries as well as the wider region.

By 15 December 2020 they are aiming to re-energize joint intelligence services-led work on analyzing, mapping and cooperating against enemies of peace and those undermining the peace process, says a document shared by the source with us.

By 1st January 2021 they plan a joint proposal for refugees return, elevating and intensifying treatment of this issue, to the point where credible and progressive action can start to be taken.

By 1st January 2021, the two countries plan a joint proposal to further regional connectivity, in a way which strengthens both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also the wider region.

Khan’s one day visit to Kabul involved discussions which “were forward looking and focused on ever deeper, broader and more meaningful bilateral relations that are beneficial for the people of the two countries,” tweeted Mohammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s special representative to Afghanistan.

Khan also took pictures with Afghanistan’s cricket team –the British game –equivalent to Baseball, which is a popular national sport in the two countries and in other countries of South Asia as well.

Pakistan has reportedly assisted Afghanistan develop its national cricket team.

Commenting on Pakistani legendary cricketer-turned political leader’s visit to Kabul and meet with President Ashraf Ghani, a senior Pakistani defense official tells DesPardes “in recent history, this is the most concerted and sincere push by Pakistan for Afghan peace with all stakeholders on board”.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he’s not authorized to comment officially.

In his view:

Future outlook will depend upon Biden administration, as to how they view the Afghan peace process. My only fear is that Afghan future may not fall prey to Sino-US rivalry.

An unstable Afghanistan feeds into insecurity within Pakistan and an unstable Pakistan impedes CPEC (Sino access to Indian Ocean).

Pakistan has taken tangible measures to secure its internal security front by routing out terrorist sanctuaries on its land and fencing Pak-Afghan border, hence chances of any large scale violence spilling over from Afghan are rather remote and few.

Pakistan and China need to engage Afghanistan to wean it away from Indian influence ( Modi anti-Muslim polices should be a big driver) and make it economically viable so that Afghanistan should be able to stand on its feet and shun US aid/assistance.

An Islamabad-based analyst takes a cautious shot at Khan’s visit to Kabul, and says saying the visit is largely symbolic in nature. According to him, “Kabul regime is waiting for new signals from Washington DC as many elements there were not happy with US giving Pakistan a larger role in peace process”. He says President-elect Joe Biden “an old hand, will reassess Afghan policy and may seek to pressurize Pakistan that will strain ties with Ghani govt”.

At the end of the day, it’s a relay race for honorable withdrawal and durable peace in Afghanistan, and change of guard in Washington doesn’t really matter except for recalibration, three observers in the region said earlier.

Michael Kugelman, Deputy director Asia Program South Asia and senior associate at The Wilson Center points out in his latest piece that “both Donald Trump and Joe Biden hold similar views about the region—an island of accord in a sea of partisan-driven discord”.

“They both back the peace process in Afghanistan and support the withdrawal of US troops. And they both envision a workable relationship with Pakistan that emphasizes Islamabad’s efforts to combat terrorism and its assistance in Afghan peace talks”.

Will peace talks lead to full US and allies withdrawal from the graveyard of Empires and then return of peace on ground will happen, has to be seen, these observers say.

Khan said that Pakistan will do everything possible to help reduce violence in Afghanistan and establish durable peace.

Addressing a joint press conference alongside President Ghani at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, the Khan said the two countries have historical links.

“The idea of visiting at a time when violence is increasing [in Afghanistan] is to assure you, President Ghani, that the people and the government of Pakistan have only one concern; peace in Afghanistan.

“The Afghan people have suffered for four decades,” he said. The Pakistani premier also noted that despite the role Islamabad has played in getting the Taliban to speak with Americans and with regards to intra-Afghan dialogue, the level of violence has risen in Afghanistan.

A return of the Taliban to urban Afghanistan is seeming increasingly likely, The Economist points out: “Negotiations are not making much headway, but the insurgency is.”

An Asia-Pacific based analyst who has authored several books on South Asia and US-China relations says, “US withdrawal will not address fissures in Afghanistan and may even exacerbate them, now that two or three generations have grown up fighting, with no experience of a pacific, collaborative, life.”