By: Zeeshan Haider

As Afghan peace process entered into a substantive phase, Islamabad and Kabul, side by side, have launched efforts to patch up their ties marred by long-drawn conflict in Afghanistan.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who has spent a major part of his life as refugee in Pakistan, paid a three-day official visit to Pakistan late September as head of the Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR).

It was his first visit to Pakistan under his new role. The visit came hot on the heels of first round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha. Abdullah led Afghan side in the Doha dialogue facilitated by Pakistan by persuading Taliban to sit face-to-face across the table first with the Amercians and then with their compatriots to resolve decades-old conflict in their country.

Prime Minister Imran Khan very deftly summed up his talks with Abdullah by stressing that both sides should let bygones be bygones to build future ties on a sound foundation.

“Enjoyed meeting Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman HCNR of Afghanistan,” Khan said in a tweet.

“We had a very interesting conversation: theme being the Past is an invaluable teacher to learn from but not to live in,” he said and then went on,”we must look towards the future. I wish him success in his mission.”

Abdullah reciprocated Khan’s sentiments in his tweet by thanking Pakistani government and military leadership, civil society and nation for their warm welcome, hospitality and “a new path.”

Earlier in his interaction with the Pakistani media, the Afghan top negotiator said that ground has been prepared for turning page in bilateral relationship.

Peace in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan is unthinkable unless they patch up their relationship by firmly disallowing hostile elements and countries to use their soil for their objectives.

After fall of the Taliban regime in the wake of U.S.-led invasion following the September 11, 2001  attacks on the United States, the al Qaeda militants and their allies fled to Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions on the border to continue their fight against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

However, after a series of military operations and sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of its troops and civilians, Pakistan has cleared its bordering regions from the militants and established complete writ of the state by formally merging these tribal districts into the Khyber Pukhtoonkhuwa province.

Moreover, over 2,500 kilometer long, porous border has been fenced which was mainly aimed at addressing the Afghan government complaints of cross-border movement of the militants.

Pakistan has also played its part to convince Taliban leaders, who like Abdullah have lived in Pakistan for decades, to sit across the negotiating table to find a political settlement of the conflict in their country and these peace efforts are duly recognized by the Afghan government, U.S. administration as well as the international community.

It is now the Afghanistan’s turn to fulfill its part of the deal. Pakistan has a long held grievance that the Afghan soil is used by its arch rival India for terrorist activities to destabilize its southwestern Baluchistan province. That has been the main bone of contention between the two neighbors since long that needs to be addressed.

The presence of Daesh terrorist group in Afghanistan’s border province with Pakistan is another headache for the two countries.

Because of volatile security situation in Afghanistan and after suffering military setbacks in the Middle East, Daesh has set up its bases in the eastern areas of that Afghanistan.

They have been responsible for some of the dreadful attacks in Afghanistan in recent years and may try to venture into Pakistan to expand their militant agenda.

There is growing apprehension that this terrorist group could step up its violent activities to sabotage the Afghan peace process. This factor needs the Americans as well as Afghan government to draw up a robust military strategy to neutralize this danger before U.S. plans to pullout troops from Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Khan in his opinion peace in the Washington Post very rightly held out warning to the Americans against repeating the mistake they committed in the 1980s by hastily withdrawing their troops from Afghanistan following Soviet pullout.

At that time they left Afghanistan at the mercy of militant groups like al Qaeda and now they seem to do it again for their domestic policy objectives of winning more votes in November election.

Afghan government and Taliban have just started talks, which if experience is any guide, would be difficult and arduous.

Unless warring Afghan sides agree on a viable peace settlement, it would be quiet risky for Afghanistan, for the region as well as for the world to wash their hands off that country.

“A hasty international withdrawal from Afghanistan would be unwise,” Khan wrote in his article. “We should also guard against regional spoilers who are not interested in peace and see instability in Afghanistan as advantageous for their own geopolitical agenda,” he added.

Instead of settling any unrealistic timelines, all those interested in peace in Afghanistan need to work devotedly towards achieving lasting and durable peace in that war-weary country.

Ideally, the Americans should allow the Afghan government and the Taliban to initially agree on the reduction of violence and then on a ceasefire. The intra-Afghan dialogue then should focus on the drawing a blueprint for the future government setup.

The U.S. needs to withhold its Afghan drawdown plans until a comprehensive deal covering timelines for cessation of hostilities, constitution and setting up of a political government is achieved.

The future peace deal for Afghanistan must be drawn from lessons learned from the mistakes and blunders committed in previous deals.

“The time is now to define a new vision, address outstanding issues as well as our shared interests and realize that peace and stability in Afghanistan or any country for that matter can have far reaching consequences and trickle effects,” Dr Abdullah said in Islamabad.

“We need to take into account the current geo-political shifts and draw necessary lessons about our gains, losses, threats and opportunities,” he said and added,”we should aim to reduce tensions, promote moderation, increase regional connectivity, trade, transit, economic integration, business to business and more importantly, people to people interactions.”

The writer is a senior journalist who can be reached @HaiderZeeshan14