Pakistan cancels US-Taliban meet; experts say opposition from India, Afghanistan after Pulwama attack at heart of decision

Islamabad: Strong opposition by the Government of Afghanistan may have prompted Pakistan to cancel a meeting with the US and Taliban on 18 February, 2019. The meeting was scheduled between Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives, in Islamabad.

While both Pakistani and Afghan officials have confirmed the cancellation of the meeting, no further details have been released by either government. The US administration has also not made any official announcement about the same.

Pakistani officials, requesting anonymity, revealed that Khan cancelled the meeting with Taliban representatives due to strong opposition from India and Afghanistan. Explaining further, they said that India never opposed Pakistan’s bid to facilitate talks. However, following the recent Pulwama attack that killed over 40 CRPF jawans, the increasing Indian and international pressure on Pakistan led to the cancellation of talks.

Pakistan cancels US-Taliban meet; experts say opposition from India, Afghanistan after Pulwama attack at heart of decision

File image of Taliban Mullah Abbas Stanikzai. AP

A few days before the scheduled meeting, the Government of Afghanistan had approached the United Nations opposing Pakistan's role in backing and holding meeting with the Taliban.

“Sensing a reaction from the United Nations General Assembly, Pakistan may have cancelled the meeting,” an Islamabad-based Western diplomat, requesting anonymity, said.

The letter, written by Afghanistan's Deputy Permanent Representative to United Nations Nazifullah Salarzai, states, the "recent official engagement of the Government of Pakistan with Taliban... constitutes a violation of national sovereignty of Afghanistan".

"These engagements, which are taking place under the pretext of support for peace efforts in Afghanistan, are void of any degree of coordination and consultation with the Government of Afghanistan.

"Most recently, we have learnt the intention of Government of Pakistan to invite a Taliban delegation for a meeting with its high-level authorities, including Prime Minister Imran Khan. The initiative is a source of deep regret and concern to the people and Government of Afghanistan as it amounts to the official recognition and legitimization of an armed-groups that poses a serious threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan, and whose members are sanctioned by provisions of the UN Security Council's 1988 Committee's Sanctions Regime,” it adds

Members of the Taliban delegation include Sher Mohammad Stanekzai, Ziauddin Madani, Salam Hanafi, Shahabuddin Delawar, Abdul Latif Mansur, Amir Khan Motaqi, Fazl Mohammad Mazloom, and Nurullah Nuri. All these individuals are currently on a highly sensitive sanctions list by the United Nations Security Council, making them ‘persons of interest’ internationally. This list comprises individuals from around the world who have been on the radar for alleged criminal activities.

Pakistan’s perspective

With the US deciding to pull troops out of Afghanistan, Pakistan plans to increase influence in Kabul by maintaining close contact with the Taliban. Not only will this give Islamabad power in the region, but will also help counter Indian influence in Afghanistan.

A former Pakistani intelligence officer, requesting anonymity, claims India has set up base in Kabul through RAW and TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), which the current Afghanistan government "refuses" to accept.

"Pakistan believes if Taliban comes into power, they can become a voice in Afghanistan's power corridors," he explains, adding that this is one of the reasons Pakistan is trying hard to make US-Taliban talks successful.

Taimur Shamil, an Islamabad-based expert on defence with a PhD in international relations, believes peace and political stability in Afghanistan will contribute towards boosting Pakistan’s economy. "Pakistan has used its links to promote intra-Afghan dialogue which addresses the political stability in Afghanistan," he says.

Speaking about Pakistan’s position on India’s presence in Afghanistan, Shamil agrees with the intelligence officer. “Indian presence in Afghanistan is a concern for Pakistan and this issue has been raised by Pakistan with the US. Pakistan believes that India uses Afghan soil and terrorist organisations like TTP and Jamat-Ul-Ahrar to carry out attacks in Pakistan,” he says.

Their aim, he adds, is to ensure Afghan soil is not used by Indian authorities against Pakistan.

“If the Taliban comes to power, or even gets a share in the next government in Afghanistan, it will be a major blow to Indian interests in the country," said a Pakistani official, requesting anonymity.

Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of aiding and abetting terrorists and members of the Taliban, a charge denied by Pakistan several times. In February 2018, Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani accused Pakistan of failing to move against the Taliban and pledged a new security plan for Kabul, after around 100 people were killed and wounded in a deadly attack on the capital in January.

Last year, US President Donald Trump asked Khan for help and cooperation in formulating peace talks with the Taliban. Following the US president’s requests, Pakistan brokered direct talks between the US and Taliban in December 2018, in Doha, Qatar. The second round of peace negotiations was to be held in February this year, which were cancelled.

In 2015, a meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Taliban were postponed following the surprise announcement of the death of the Taliban’s founding commander, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The author is a Rawalpindi-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2019 19:57:33 IST

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