Advice on relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and between Pakistan and the US has arrived from three different sources at the same time, with remarkable convergence as to the conclusions. First, a Pak-Afghan Track-II initiative called the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Committee (PAJC), Beyond Boundaries, met in Kabul on June 25, 2018, having previously had two rounds, one in Kabul on December 15, 2017 and one in Islamabad on February 26, 2018. PAJC welcomed the commitment by Pakistan and Afghanistan to end their mutual blame game and advised both sides to restrain their spokespersons from knee-jerk reactions to events. PAJC found the recent Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) promising and capable of providing the basis for a rapprochement between the two countries. PAJC asked both governments to sign a bilateral consular agreement, work on a dignified, reasonable plan for Afghan refugees’ repatriation, hold meetings to improve trade, both transit and bilateral, address negative perceptions of the other, hold media exchanges and highlight progress under APAPPS. On the other hand, a Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) seminar in Islamabad on the same day advised Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US to bridge their trust deficit in order to bring peace to Afghanistan, a desirable goal no one country could accomplish on its own. The seminar posited a region-led, region-owned peace process, which appeared one step ahead of Pakistan’s formulation of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation effort. The seminar, while recognising Pakistan’s crucial role in this process, emphasized a sustained western engagement in Afghanistan. Other participants argued Pakistan should be engaged constructively while being treated as a sovereign state. Peace and stability in Pakistan, it was pointed out, was dependent on peace and stability in Afghanistan. The seminar concluded its deliberations by arguing for economic interdependence between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in which mega projects like the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the Central Asia-South Asia electricity project were important. The SDPI seminar also called for trade enhancement and facilitation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The third contribution to the debate comes from an Institute for Policy Reforms (IPR) report that argues that despite their differences and recent tensions over Afghanistan, the Pak-US relationship cannot end. Both sides need to understand each other’s perceptions and interests. The report says both Pakistan and the US want peace in Afghanistan but differ on methods and goals. Concerned about Indian influence, Pakistan wants a ‘friendly’ government in Kabul while the US favoured a military solution over reconciliation (though the latter may be changing now). IPR advises Pakistan to stay engaged with the US, regain trust without necessarily yielding to all demands, state clearly what is possible, what is not, without waiting for US pressure to respond. Pakistan should offer sincere cooperation but make it equally contingent on US accommodation of Pakistan’s security concerns. The US on the other hand must help stop cross-border Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacks. While Pakistan cannot control all Afghan Taliban acts, it should pledge to restrain them from our borders while nudging them towards reconciliation. The report points out that an Afghan Taliban government in Kabul is not acceptable to most Afghans, the US, China and Russia. Pakistan must help negotiations with the Afghan Taliban while extracting assurances from Kabul of effective border controls and degrading the TTP. The report notes that the recent killing of Mullah Fazlullah, the chief of the TTP, was viewed positively by Pakistan.
All three sources argue for cooperation based on trust between the stakeholders in the Afghan conflict. While the logic of thus paving the road to peace and reconciliation is unassailable, the fly in the ointment remains the intransigence of the Afghan Taliban. On the same day as these sources produced their remarkably congruent advice, the Afghan Taliban refused to respond to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s extension by another 10 days of the (imperfect) ceasefire over Eid by extending their own ceasefire. On the contrary they painted the ceasefire initiative as an attempt to persuade them to lay down their arms and accept the regime in Kabul imposed by the US-led west. This shows that however much the three sources speak eminent sense, the road to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan remains a long and bumpy one.