AFTER much uncertainty and delays, the Afghan peace talks have finally got off to a start in Doha, Qatar. The Afghan government delegation is led by Masoom Stanekzai while the Afghan Taliban team is headed by Shaikh Abdul Hakim Haqqani. Those in attendance at the talks also include American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, chief of the High Afghan Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah as well as Afghan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar. Prime Minister Imran Khan has welcomed the intra-Afghan dialogue saying Pakistan has fulfilled its commitment and now Afghans should work towards a durable peace through a negotiated settlement of the dispute. The talks kicked off on Saturday with a long line of dignitaries from various countries welcoming the delegates and wishing them well. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also addressed the gathering through video link and called for an end to violence while saying Pakistan would back the consensus that emerged from the talks. The talks faced delays on the release of some Taliban prisoners but as a result of sustained pressure from all stakeholders, the Afghan government finally relented and allowed the detainees to walk free.
After decades of incessant hostilities and war, Afghanistan is at a historic moment that can herald the long-awaited peace. These talks represent the best chance for a settlement between factions that have fought each other with the support of external players. It is also an opportunity for the United States to bring to an end its longest running war that has led to the death of thousands of people and the near destruction of Afghanistan. Pakistan has played a very positive and constructive role in facilitating these talks and this role has been duly acknowledged by the United States, United Kingdom and other stakeholders. However the crucial stage has begun only now. There is much that could go wrong. The dangers of violence breaking out yet again remains alive. One incident could derail these negotiations. It is therefore important for all stakeholders, including Pakistan, to remain deeply engaged in these intra-Afghan negotiations to ensure that talks cross over any hurdles that may come up, and lead to a consensus that can see a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan. If peace can return to the war-ravaged country it would enable the people of Afghanistan to start rebuilding their lives and future. This benefits everyone, including Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2020