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U.S. and Taliban Conclude Pakistan-Moderated Peace Talks

Islamabad has long urged in talks with the United States that rival India’s growing influence in Afghanistan is a matter of concern for Pakistan.

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Peace Talks, taliban
In this photo released by Inter Services Public Relations of Pakistan's military, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, talks with Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa during a meeting in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Dec. 19, 2018. VOA

The United States and the Taliban have concluded two days of marathon peace talks in the United Arab Emirates, promising to meet again in the Gulf country for another round “to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process.”

Pakistan took credit for bringing Taliban insurgents to the negotiating table to assist in the Washington-initiated bid aimed at ending the 17-year-old Afghan war.

The Afghan “reconciliation conference” in Abu Dhabi, “fructified in tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned,” said the state-run Emirates News Agency in a brief announcement Wednesday.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, led the U.S. team in the meeting, with officials of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates also in attendance.

In a message via his office’s official Twitter account, Khalilzad noted he held “productive” meetings with Afghan and international partners in Abu Dhabi “to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict in Afghanistan.”

taliban, afghanistan
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a separate statement, said, “Future negotiation meetings shall continue after deliberations and consultations by both sides with their respective leaderships.”

The talks began on Monday and were supposed to last three days, as per earlier official announcements, but neither side explained what prompted them to abruptly end the process.

Afghan government peace negotiators were also present in the vicinity, hoping to join the meeting at some stage, but the Taliban refused to sit with them.

Mujahid said the Taliban’s dialogue was exclusively with the U.S. and “the focal point” of discussions with U.S. interlocutors was the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan.

The “biggest obstacle to peace is the occupation of Afghanistan and bringing it to an end,” the Taliban spokesman reiterated, while referring to the U.S.-led international military mission.

USA, afghanistan, taliban
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Mujahid again rejected as groundless reports that issues such as a temporary cease-fire, peace talks with the Kabul administration, installation of an interim Afghan government and future elections also came under discussions with Khalilzad’s team.

He described these issues as Afghanistan’s “internal matters” and went on to assert that Taliban envoys presented “documented information and proof to the participants about indiscriminate bombings against civilians and demanded its immediate halt.”

For their part, Afghan, U.S. and United Nations officials accuse the Taliban of causing a majority of Afghan civilian casualties during battlefield and other insurgent raids.

Mujahid said that Taliban officials also urged U.S. interlocutors to take into consideration “humane treatment of [insurgent] prisoners and their freedom” from Afghan jails.

Khalilzad is said to have urged the Taliban to release an American professor and his Australian colleague who were kidnapped more than two years ago. Kevin King, 60, and Timothy Weeks, 48, from Australia were teaching at Kabul’s American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) before gunmen took them hostage near the campus in August 2016.

Ambassador Khalilzad later visited Pakistan to discuss “regional security” and the “Afghan peace process” with the country’s military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Imran Khan, Taliban
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Nov. 21, 2018. VOA

An army spokesman said General Bajwa reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and assured continued efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region.

After his brief stopover in Pakistan, Khalilzad arrived in neighboring Afghanistan to update the Afghan leadership on his engagements with regional partners and other interested parties “to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict,” the U.S. embassy in Kabul said.

Pakistan’s involvement

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who publicly took credit last Friday for facilitating the “peace talks,” reiterated Tuesday his country “will do everything within its power” to further the Afghan peace process.

“Pakistan has helped in the dialogue between Taliban and the U.S. in Abu Dhabi. Let us pray that this leads to peace and ends almost three decades of suffering of the brave Afghan people,” Khan said.

When asked about the talks in UAE, a State Department spokesperson told VOA Monday that the meetings were part of U.S. efforts to promote an intra-Afghan dialogue toward ending the conflict.

Pakistan, CHina, Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Salahuddin Rabbani, center, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, first right, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, first left, shake hands after signing the agreement at the presidential palace in Kabul, Dec. 15, 2018. VOA

“We welcome any actions the Pakistani government takes to advance security, stability and cooperation in South Asia, including the fostering of negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government and other Afghans, the spokesperson said.

The U.S. spokesperson also said a recent letter from U.S. President Donald Trump to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan “emphasized that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring U.S.-Pakistan partnership.”

Islamabad reaction

Officials in Islamabad have issued a harsh response to the comments by the State Department, saying they believe Washington is trying to downplay Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table in UAE.

Imran Khan, taliban
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kartarpur Corridor in Kartarpur on Nov. 28, 2018. VOA

“(The) U.S. administration has to adopt a more respectful and duly appreciating attitude towards Pakistan if it wants the cooperation to continue with same goodwill. Western media efforts to brush aside Pakistan’s role in bringing authoritative Taliban to direct talks with U.S. must end,” a source in Islamabad told VOA.

The strong reaction underscored the fragile Islamabad-Washington relationship that has lately deteriorated further.

Also Read: U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

Trump administration officials have hardened the U.S. position on Pakistan in recent months, suspending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for what the U.S. says is Islamabad’s unwillingness to act decisively against the Taliban. Pakistani authorities reject that charge, and point to the thousands of troops who have been killed fighting militants in the volatile Afghan border region.

Islamabad has long urged in talks with the United States that rival India’s growing influence in Afghanistan is a matter of concern for Pakistan. Security officials blame Indian intelligence operatives for supporting militants planning terrorist attacks in Pakistan from Afghan soil, charges both Kabul and New Delhi reject. (VOA)

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Opponents of Modi Regime Continue to Have Pakistan as Their Blind Spot

The call for Jehad had made the separatist slogans of plebiscite or Azadi pale into insignificance, begun the process

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Opponents, Modi, Pakistan
All through these years since the Nineties, when the Pak army-ISI combine embarked on a planned attempt to replicate the success of Afghan Jehad in Kashmir by infiltrating battle hardened Mujahideen into the Valley. Pixabay

Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly began his Independence Day address by declaring that the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, approved by the two Houses of Parliament with a two-third majority, had restored ‘One Nation, One Constitution’ for India. In a play of domestic politics, however, the developments relating to Kashmir are producing a political fallout at home in which the principal opposition strangely is showing up as the chief apologist for Pakistan.

All through these years since the Nineties, when the Pak army-ISI combine embarked on a planned attempt to replicate the success of Afghan Jehad in Kashmir by infiltrating battle hardened Mujahideen into the Valley, those presently opposed to the Centre in tune with the Kashmir-centric political parties had just refused to name Pakistan for this new cross border offensive. The call for Jehad had made the separatist slogans of plebiscite or Azadi pale into insignificance, begun the process by which Kashmiriyat would be supplanted by Salafism that was brought in by the terrorists of Lashkar-e-Toiba belonging to the Ahle Hadis stock and brazenly converted what was at best a territorial matter regarding the integral state of Jammu & Kashmir – as symbolised by LOC – into a ‘Muslim issue’.

There has to be some deep rooted reason why the earlier governments at the Centre as well as the Valley based political parties ruling the state of J& K, remained a mute spectator of the violent ouster of Kashmiri Pandits from their homes planned by the ISI in pursuit of the Pak agenda in Kashmir. When Pakistan extended its proxy war — with cross border terrorism as its instrument — from Kashmir to the rest of the country and carried out 26/11, rightly described as India’s 9/11, the then government attempted to bail out Pakistan from the charge of having a hand in it, rebuffing any suggestion that talks with Pakistan should at least be put on the back burner.

The keenness to align with the American view voiced by John Kerry on a visit to Mumbai — that the attack was solely the doing of non-State actors — was much too obvious. The fact that India had granted shared victimhood in regard to terror to Pakistan at the Havana summit earlier — again for the same reason — only emboldened Pakistan to use the deniability card on the Mumbai attack. The discerning public in India was never able to understand what kind of Pakistan policy the government of that time was being advised to follow. The impression that our policy makers then were being spineless did override any other interpretation.

Opponents, Modi, Pakistan
Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly began his Independence Day address by declaring that the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, approved by the two Houses of Parliament with a two-third majority. Pixabay

While the Pak mischief from across LOC continued in Kashmir on an upward graph it was left to the Modi government coming into power in 2014 to tell the world community that Pakistan had become a haven for Islamic extremists and advocates of Jehad and impress upon the US in particular that it would not do to make a distinction between the Islamic radicals of Al Qaeda-Taliban combine who attacked the West and the extremists of outfits like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen who specifically targeted only India under ISI’s mentoring. Prime Minister Modi, showing the required boldness in handling the threat of terrorism to India, called off talks with Pakistan on the ground that ‘talks and terror could not go together’ and succeeded in getting President Donald Trump to abandon the earlier American policy of drawing a line between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’.

While the Pakistan army was smarting under the new response of the Modi regime on the issue of talks, the opposition at the Centre, in league with the political parties of the Valley, immediately took to pressing for resumption of dialogue with Pakistan. It still did not say a word against the stepped up infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir from across the LoC by this hostile neighbour. What is worse, the Valley parties remained deaf to the Intelligence about separatists and Pak agents in Kashmir being the masterminds behind stone pelting on security forces. Totally abdicating their responsibility for controlling civil disturbances, they took an absurd stand that India should talk to Pakistan to check stone pelters. Those opposed to Modi appeared to go along with this line of extreme submission to Pakistan.

It seems that many in the opposition at the Centre have been ambivalent about naming Pakistan for the cross border terror threat basically because it has gone into their political psyche that criticism of Pakistan would not sit well with the Muslim minority of India. The people at large interpreted this as a part of ‘Vote bank politics’ – which even produced a significant backlash adding to the victory margins of BJP in 2019 general election. And yet in the context of the current developments in Kashmir related to the abolition of Articles 370 and 35A the principal opposition is projecting the move of the Centre as an attack on the Muslim majority of that state. It needs to be noted that the Centre has — through the mechanism of creating the identity of a Union Territory for J&K — assumed a direct accountability for developing Kashmir and opening up new opportunities for Kashmiris in the face of misgovernance of the state by a corrupt set of earlier rulers who had clearly colluded with separatists for their vested interests. It is Pakistan that had — as already mentioned — projected Kashmir as a Muslim issue and by implicitly voicing the same logic those in the opposition doing it are once again being on the side of Pakistan on a matter of prime importance for India’s national security. If there is no threat of Kashmir being overrun by outsiders, Kashmiris are only in for faster development and greater protection against terrorists and Pak agents hibernating in the state.

It is important that while giving a better deal to J&K, of which reestablishing the value system of Kashmiriyat and pushing away Islamic extremism that legitimised violence in the name of faith would be a major component, the Centre maintains a close vigil in the rest of the country against any devious attempts made to create communal antagonism in the name of Kashmir. It is not correct to put the minority community at the mass level on the same footing as the Ulema and the elite trying to control it for their political purposes. Also, any efforts to mitigate the impact of ‘radicalisation’ on the young minds with an outreach to the families concerned, would help. The terrorists in Kashmir and elsewhere have to be put down with all the might of the State, the Pak agents have to be shown their place and the political propaganda of the opposition effectively countered.

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The clamp down in Kashmir is meant to thwart the designs of the Pak agents — not to curb the law abiding common people. Reasonable time is to be allowed to the administration to establish its grip on the situation that had been allowed to deteriorate all these years. The Supreme Court has taken this view too. If the Centre has reached a considered decision to not permit public assembly in Kashmir for the time being, how is it logical for any opposition leader to demand that the J&K administration should allow him or her to address gathering of people on a visit? The Governor need not have felt provoked by the propagandist line of the opposition and could have at best suggested that the opposition leaders making it to Srinagar could have the benefit of receiving a briefing from him. Meanwhile, the successful hoisting of national flag in Kashmir on August 15 at Srinagar and other places presages a rapid return to normalcy considering how a pall of fear of separatists and Pak agents hung in the Valley in the past on such national occasions.

The decision of the Centre on Kashmir is holding out internationally and the US has also clarified that there was no case for a third party mediation between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. It is ironic — but not surprising — that the opponents of Modi regime continue to have Pakistan as their blind spot which can only be a reflection of their desperate bid to build a vote bank around India’s minority. So long as the Modi government promises development and equal protection of law to all, people of India regardless of caste and creed might be willing to give it their due support. (IANS)