ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday reiterated Pakistan’s opposition to a takeover of Kabul by force by any of the warring groups and again called for a negotiated settlement of the long-running conflict under which Taliban could be included in Afghanistan’s future government.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, Mr Khan explained Pakistan’s position on the Afghan conflict and potential of cooperation with the US on the issue.

“We oppose any military takeover of Afghanistan, which will lead only to decades of civil war, as the Taliban cannot win over the whole of the country, and yet must be included in any government for it to succeed,” the prime minister wrote.

Violence in Afghanistan has intensified since the US began pulling out its troops from the country on May 1.

Taliban have captured large areas from the demoralised Afghan security forces. The insurgents have captured over 70 district centres over the past two months, according to Tolo News.

Many believe that Taliban’s military campaign is aimed at capturing Kabul although the insurgents have in their interactions with Western governments assured them that they would not do so.

Pakistan, the prime minister recalled, was part of recent ‘Extended Troika’ joint statements, along with Russia, China and the United States, that unambiguously declared “that any effort to impose a government by force in Kabul would be opposed by us all, and also would deprive Afghanistan (of) access to the foreign assistance it will need.”

“We know that if the Taliban tries (sic) to declare a military victory, it will lead to endless bloodshed,” Mr Khan maintained.

In an article published by the Washington Post, he urges Afghan government to ‘show flexibility’ in talks with Taliban

Reports from Afghanistan indicate that militias are being formed to counter the Taliban onslaught.

The prime minister urged the Afghan government to “show more flexibility” in the talks continuing in Doha without any progress.

Kabul has staunchly opposed formation of any transitional government.

Mr Khan also urged the Afghan government to stop blaming Pakistan for the problems, as it was doing everything possible “short of military action”.

In a message for Washington, Mr Khan emphasised the common interests of both countries, besides explaining why Islamabad could not allow CIA to operate bases from its territory for conducting counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan after withdrawal of troops.

“Pakistan is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the United States — but as US troops withdraw, we will avoid risking further conflict,” he said.

In recent bilateral engagements, the US asked Pakistan for drone bases as it builds, what is being called its ‘over the horizon capacity’ for counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign troops. Although, the US concept of ‘over the horizon’ has not been adequately defined, it seems to be about forces deployed in the region, drone bases, and long-range capabilities from outside the region.

Pakistan has categorically refused to host US bases. “If Pakistan were to agree to host US bases, from which to bomb Afghanistan, and an Afghan civil war ensued, Pakistan would be targeted for revenge by terrorists again,” Mr Khan said and added “We simply cannot afford this. We have already paid too heavy a price.”

He also questioned the efficacy of the ‘over the horizon strategy’, saying “if the United States, with the most powerful military machine in history, couldn’t win the war from inside Afghanistan after 20 years, how would America do it from bases in our country?”

Mr Khan said both Pakistan and the US wanted “a political settlement, stability, economic development and the denial of any haven for terrorists” in Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2021

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