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Peace talks and cautious optimism

Confidence is building and the tone of the conflict in the country has been changing. Many people, in Afghanistan, the region and the West, have started discerning that at last after a long political stalemate, prospect for a negotiated settlement to the war, is taking some kind of substantial form. After the government made its peace talks rounds with the Taliban public through media, it is possible to build a cautious optimistic view regarding political progress in the country, however, when one looks at contradictory statements of the Taliban that optimistic view starts falling apart. Whether the Taliban bears it out or deny nevertheless a series of events in the last few months seem to be changing the playing field. Among such events, Pakistan’s apparent policy shift on the Taliban have made the prospect promising. Undeniably without Pakistan’s support Kabul wouldn’t succeed in cutting the Gordian’s knot that sustains the Afghan conflict. For most of the times the Taliban’s inconsistent nature grinded away at the position of Kabul while at the same time they blamed the government for prolonging the war by allowing foreign troops presence on Afghan soil. It’s this attitude of the Taliban that has arrested the pace of development of peace talks. Success of peace negotiations seeks sincerity from all major stakeholders. Now that the government claims it has kicked off peace negotiations it shouldn’t be a pig in the poke as Kabul looks currently much leaned towards Islamabad—a key player in the region. Its leverage on the Afghan Taliban is undoubted. Yet Pakistani Taliban pose a serious threat to Pakistan. It has the potential to give a dig in the rib to the Taliban for peace talks. It says it has already prodded the Taliban. The new government looks confident regarding what it calls a new peace mechanism, however, many people in Kabul including many big guns of the ex-government have reservations over the seismic change in Afghanistan’s foreign policy. Perhaps this is the reason that India looks reluctant to up the ante to spend more in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. And perhaps this is the reason that Abdullah Abdullah, the CEO of the National Unity Government, attempted to allay New Delhi’s concerns. Abdullah is in New Delhi on a three day visit where he told Indians that Afghanistan expects India to stay the course and doesn’t need to be on tenterhooks as nothing can undermine Kabul-Delhi friendly relations. Currently, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan need to iron their differences out diplomatically while improving trade and investment ties because the region cannot tolerate further political differences. As President Ashraf Ghani has taken a highly unusual and phenomenal different approach from his predecessor, therefore, Pakistan shouldn’t lose this chance. Besides that trade and investment relations should be made a powerful game changer in AfPak relations and they should be shielded from getting overpowered by irksome issues particularly those that are the domain of militaries and bureaucracies. It’s worth reminding that during the Taliban’s toughest regime, the trade volume between Pakistan and Afghanistan was just nominal while currently it has already reached $2 billion (USD). The two neighboring states want to double the annual trade volume to the $5 billion by the end of 2017. Then why should Pakistan support the Taliban in Afghanistan with whom it can hardly take its business volume beyond a nominal level. Moreover, this desired trade volume could only be achieved when trust deficit is overcome and political differences are resolved through diplomacy instead of pursuing mad strategic interests.

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