23:58 GMT27 November 2020
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    Pakistan has a good reason for assisting Washington in striking a deal with the Taliban and facilitating the ongoing intra-Afghan talks, says Sabtain Ahmed Dar, a Pakistani political analyst and author, shedding light on Islamabad's role in the great powers game in the region.

    The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) and the Taliban* are continuing to engage in sporadic clashes on the ground despite the ongoing intra-Afghan talks which started in September in Doha, Qatar, according to the Pentagon. Nevertheless, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has recently expressed hope that the Afghan negotiations will facilitate a much-anticipated ceasefire in the country and warned that some destructive forces may try to hinder the peace process.

    Pakistan's Role in the US-Taliban Deal

    The Afghan peace talks started largely because of Islamabad's efforts, says Sabtain Ahmed Dar, a Pakistani political analyst, academic and author, highlighting that it is in Islamabad's national interest that the nearly two-decade war end and the US withdraws from the region.

    "The interests of the United States and Pakistan, that were aligned during the Cold War, were not aligned with regard to the [2001] 'war on terror'," the analyst notes. "The US and Pakistani narrative on the 9/11 attacks was completely the opposite since the very first day. The United States wanted to eliminate the very same Islamic militant organisations that they had themselves created during the Cold War for their vested interests in Afghanistan".

    For about 15 years, Washington provided Pakistan with military and economic aid, seeing it as a major non-NATO ally in the war on terrorism. However, in 2006 the US National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan, revealed that "available evidence strongly suggests that ISI (the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence) maintains an active and ongoing relationship with certain elements of the Taliban".

    Islamabad could not accept that its nearest neighbour was destabilised by the US-led NATO invasion, especially given that the Taliban had never been involved in the 9/11 attacks, the author remarks.

    Although new instances of the ISI-Taliban cooperation were unveiled in 2008, 2009 and later on, Washington continued to provide financial assistance to Islamabad until Donald Trump withheld aid to the country in 2018, accusing Pakistan of playing a double game with the US in the Afghanistan crisis since 2001.

    ​Nevertheless, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's ascendance to power in August 2018 and the country's subsequent foreign policy shift helped mend fences between the US and Pakistan. Nevertheless, it took almost a year for Washington and Islamabad to sort the things out, according to the author. 

    "Mr. Khan inherited a much peaceful Pakistan compared to his predecessors," Dar explains. "This is why with a peaceful domestic scenario much of Mr. Khan's focus is on eliminating corruption and elevating prosperity through improving economic and financial sectors. This also allowed him to lead a robust foreign policy too where he is emerging as an honest peace broker in the region."
    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks at a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019
    © AP Photo / Office of the Iranian Presidency
    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks at a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019

    On 22 July 2019 Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made an official visit to the White House.

    "In his meeting with US counterparts he again reiterated Pakistan’s new paradigm shift in foreign policy that 'Pakistan will not become a part of (US) war'. In the meeting with Mr. Khan, it marked a striking turnaround in Pakistan's recent gains when Mr. Trump said 'I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves'. It was this statement from where onward Pakistan arranged secret talks between the Taliban and US representatives to initiate an amicable solution to the longest war in US history."

    The US-Taliban talks resulted in the conclusion of the deal which envisaged the withdrawal of US troops and allied forces from the country, given that the Afghan military group meets the conditions of the deal.

    "Pakistan is all in this peace process because peace in Afghanistan will result in peace in Pakistan," the analyst stresses. "This is why Pakistan is engaging with all the stakeholders in Afghanistan to ensure that all foreign influence inside Afghanistan must end once and for all."

    The Afghan Peace Process as Part of Pakistan's Geopolitical Strategy

    Islamabad has also a geopolitical reason to push ahead with the Afghan peace deal, Dar emphasises. Currently, Pakistan has found itself "encircled" with the Afghanistan crisis on its Western border, the militarisation of the Persian Gulf by the US amid the Iran-Saudi Arabia divide, and the turmoil in Kashmir in the north-east of the country, which caused Islamabad more alarm after India reorganised its quasi-autonomous state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories. This is why Pakistan seeks an "amicable solution" to the Afghanistan crisis, the Pakistani-India row, and the Kashmir conflict via UN resolutions, the analyst elaborates.

    Dar outlines four major directions of Islamabad's foreign policy:

    •             first, cooperation with the US in the Afghanistan peace process and international diplomacy;

    •             second, strategic partnership with China while maintaining a balance between Washington and Beijing;

    •             third, maintenance of the balance with India to ensure peace in South Asia;

    •             fourth, maintenance of the balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia to facilitate peace in the Muslim world.

    While Pakistan has managed to find common ground with the US with regard to the Afghan peace deal, Islamabad's longstanding cooperation with China has presented a challenge to Washington amid simmering Sino-American tensions. Thus, it appears unsurprising to the author that the US is seeking to drive Islamabad away from Beijing. However, the Sino-Pakistani relationship is something that Imran Khan is not ready to sacrifice, according to Dar.

    China's President Xi Jinping, right, meets Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018
    © AP Photo / Thomas Peter/Pool
    China's President Xi Jinping, right, meets Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018
    "In Pakistan’s foreign policy, the most significant paradigm shift in recent times is Islamabad’s overt shift from Washington to Beijing for a new strategic partnership," the analyst says. "The Pak-China axis has a long history that dates back to the 1970s, when during the Sino-Soviet split, it helped broker peace between China and the United States, which was crucial for ending the Vietnam War".

    He notes that China played an important role in Pakistan's nuclear programme, adding that "today joint cooperation among Pakistan and China in the fields of economics and defence and an ironclad military alliance are among of the major determinants of Asian geopolitics."

    Furthermore, Beijing's role has taken on new significance for Islamabad, given the recent US-India rapprochement and the formation of the US-India axis. In this light, the Pakistan-China axis plays the role of a counterweight, Dar believes.

    "If we take dependency theory into our account, Pakistan lies at the semi-periphery level of the international nation state system," the analyst explains. "It is a developing country which sees China as its foremost partner who would help Pakistan to take her to the top club members of the new multipolar world order. Pakistan sees both the United States and China crucial for its foreign policy and always tries to balance them through a realistic model."

    *The Taliban is designated as a terrorist organisation in Russia.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Imran Khan, Donald Trump, Taliban, peace talks, Doha, Pakistan, Afghanistan, US
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