As Afghan Taliban continue to make rapid inroads in their country, the US trouble-shooter for the region made a dash to Islamabad on Monday and held crucial meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa as part of efforts to prevent a civil war in Afghanistan.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad flew from Doha where representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban held two-day talks but failed to make any headway. Instead, the two sides issued a joint statement, vowing to continue the talks.
Khalilzad regularly visits the region and Pakistan but it is rare he is given an audience with the prime minister. The fact that he met Prime Minister Imran this time suggested that something significant was discussed during the meeting, according to observers.
Against the backdrop of the unfolding situation, Khalilzad held separate meetings with the prime minister and the army chief to discuss the stalemate in the Afghan peace talks.
While a US readout said that the continued war in Afghanistan posed a risk to the entire region and threatened to reverse the development, Prime Minister Imran emphasised the need for all Afghan sides to show flexibility and engage meaningfully with each other.
Khalilzad’s visit came at a time when the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating on the one hand, while on the other, there had been a diplomatic row between Pakistan and Afghanistan over the reported abduction of the Afghan envoy’s daughter.
The Afghan government on Sunday withdrew its ambassador and senior diplomats from Pakistan, saying that it would send them back only if Islamabad ensured fool-proof security for its mission and diplomats.
Islamabad police said that their investigations into the reported incident so far found no evidence of kidnapping. Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Pakistan sought cooperation from Afghanistan to take the investigation to its logical end.
A statement issued by the US embassy said that US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Khalilzad, in meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, emphasised the urgency of a comprehensive political settlement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban that could lead to a sustainable peace, and preserved Afghanistan’s security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.
“Continued war in Afghanistan poses a risk to the entire region and holds back its development. Peace, by contrast, will enable regional connectivity and increased trade and development. We commit to do our part to make this vision a reality. Tangible and material support for the Afghanistan peace process is vital for its ultimate success, as are positive long-term relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Khalilzad was quoted as saying by the US embassy.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said the Imran highlighted Pakistan’s constructive efforts for facilitating peace efforts for achieving an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement to end over four-decade-long conflict in Afghanistan.
He said that escalation of conflict and instability in Afghanistan were not in Pakistan’s interest as it would lead to serious challenges for Pakistan in areas of security and influx of refugees, adding that durable peace in Afghanistan would open avenues for regional economic connectivity.
Imran recalled that he had consistently emphasised that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. He added that imposition of a government by force would not lead to the resolution of the conflict instead only a negotiated settlement would bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Reaffirming Pakistan’s consistent support to a peaceful, stable and united Afghanistan, the prime minister underlined that a secure and safe Western border was in Pakistan’s own best interest and Pakistan would like to remain closely engaged with the US and other relevant countries for peace efforts.
As suggested by him at the recent Central Asia and South Asia Connectivity Conference in Tashkent, Imran added that it was important for Afghanistan’s neighbours and regional countries to constructively work together for a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has played a vital role in facilitating and brokering the Doha deal and intra-Afghan talks but the prime minister had recently said that the country’s influence over the Afghan Taliban had diminished ever since the US gave a timeline for its troop withdrawal.
But Islamabad said it was committed to make all-out efforts for a political settlement. As part of those efforts, Pakistan proposed an Afghan peace conference but the event was postponed after the President Ashraf Ghani administration refused to send its delegations.
Pakistan is worried that increasing unrest in Afghanistan will have far-reaching implications for the country. It is particularly concerned about the influx of new wave of Afghan refugees in case there is a civil war in Afghanistan. An estimated 0.5 to 0.7 million new Afghan refugees may enter Pakistan.
The government is considering several proposals to deal with the challenge. In principle, officials said, Pakistan should not accept new refugees. But in case the situation deteriorates, special camps could be set up either inside Afghanistan or close to Pakistan-Afghanistan borders to accommodate the new refugees.