WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan has revealed that US President Donald Trump wrote to him in 2018 and sought Pakistan’s assistance for negotiating peace in Afghanistan and he showed “no hesitation” in doing so.

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Saturday, the prime minister warned that despite his eagerness to see an end to decades of blood-letting in Afghanistan, he was against a hasty withdrawal of foreign troops from the war-ravaged country.

“When President Trump wrote to me in late 2018 to ask for Pakistan’s assistance in helping the United States achieve a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan, we had no hesitation in assuring the president that Pakistan would make every effort to facilitate such an outcome,” he wrote. “And we did.”

This understanding “began arduous rounds of talks between the United States and the Taliban, which culminated in the February US-Taliban peace agreement,” Mr Khan wrote.

“This agreement, in turn, has laid the groundwork for talks between the Afghan leadership and the Taliban,” he added.

Imran discloses Trump sought Pakistan help for peace talks

Last week, William E. Todd, the new US ambassador to Pakistan, told a congressional panel in Washington that now Islamabad had an even more important role in ending the Afghan war than it did in arranging a peace deal with the Taliban.

The US now needed Pakistan’s support for arranging a deal between the Taliban and the Kabul government, he said, adding that “this is a moment of opportunity for Pakistan to continue to forge a new and better role in the region”.

In his piece for the Post, the prime minister indicated Pakistan’s willingness to play this role but urged Washington to guard against regional spoilers while finalising a peace deal for Afghanistan.

“We should also guard against regional spoilers who are not invested in peace and see instability in Afghanistan as advantageous for their own geopolitical ends,” he wrote.

Mr Khan also raised this issue in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday when he said that after almost two decades of war, “it is imperative not to allow ‘spoilers’ within and outside Afghanistan — to subvert the peace process”.

In his article, the prime minister said that a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan would be ‘unwise’ and urged “all those who have invested in the Afghan peace process” to “resist the temptation for setting unrealistic timelines”.

In July, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China also warned the United States against a precipitous withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, saying that terrorist groups could take advantage of it.

“The three sides urged for an orderly, responsible and condition-based withdrawal of the foreign troops from Afghanistan to avoid potential terrorist resurgence,” said a joint communique issued after a virtual meeting.

But in his address to the UNGA last week, President Trump indicated that he was waiting for an opportunity to pull out US troops from Afghanistan. “As we speak, the United States is also working to end the war in Afghanistan. And we are bringing our troops home,” he said.

In his op-ed piece, Prime Minister Khan assured Washington that “like the United States, Pakistan does not want to see Afghanistan become a sanctuary for international terrorism ever again.”

The Afghan conflict, he said, had taught Pakistan two important lessons: “First, that we are too closely intertwined with Afghanistan by geography, culture and kinship for events in that country not to cast a shadow on Pakistan. And Pakistan will not know real peace until our Afghan brothers and sisters are at peace.”

“We also learned that peace and political stability in Afghanistan could not be imposed from the outside. Only an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process could produce a lasting peace,” he said.

The prime minister also highlighted Pakistan’s contribution to the fight against terrorism. “More than 80,000 Pakistani security personnel and civilians have laid down their lives in perhaps the largest and most successful fight against terrorism,” he wrote.

Pakistan’s active participation in the fight against terror also made it a target of regular terrorists. Attacks, often launched by “externally enabled terrorist groups based in Afghanistan”, he said.

He hoped that the Afghan government would eliminate these pockets of terrorism that were used to launch “attacks against the Afghan people, the international coalition forces stationed in Afghanistan, and other countries in the region, including Pakistan”.

“Like the United States, we do not want the blood and treasure we have shed in the war against terrorism to be in vain,” he said.

The premier added that Pakistan was “committed to multilateral collaboration” to achieve peace and stability in the region.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2020