Removing the “continuing imminent threat” to US personnel and Afghan civilians in Afghanistan, the US killed the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike in Pakistan, two weeks ago. Thus the world ‘got the message’ that “the US will continue to stand with its Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan”. As usual, denouncing this drone strike, Pakistan has accused the US of violating its state sovereignty. On the other hand, vowing to avenge the death of Akhtar Mansour, now the newly-appointed Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada has also declared that they would not become a part of any talks with the ‘puppet Afghan government’ in future.

Following last month’s deadly terror attack in Kabul, the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has asked Pakistan to take action against Taliban who were orchestrating attacks on Afghanistan. He also demanded Pakistan to abandon its ‘good and bad terrorist policy’. The US also warned the Afghan Taliban of hard actions, advising them to “pursue a pathway of peace”. Therefore, a strong retaliatory action on the part of the US was being widely expected after the Kabul terrorist attack. Certainly, the failure of the fifth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), recently-held in Islamabad, also simply added to the frustration of Americans in Afghanistan, eventually leading to a drone strike in Pakistan.

As a precondition for peace talks, the Taliban has demanded the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan. In the last QCG meeting in Islamabad, it was agreed to give peace a chance to bring an end to conflict in Afghanistan. But strangely, by ‘droning’ the Afghan Taliban leader in Pakistan, the US did just the opposite. This drone attack is being generally viewed as counter-productive to the current peace initiatives in the region. Therefore, diminishing the already-dim prospects of peace in Afghanistan, now the fate of QCG peace initiatives hangs in the balance. Earlier, the so-called Murree peace process has met a similar fate owing to lack of sincerity and seriousness on the part of Kabul and Washington to bring various Afghan groups on negotiating table. Therefore, at the moment, the much-trumpeted ‘Afghan-led and afghan-owned’ peace and reconciliation process has only become a distant hope.

In fact, Pakistan has been the worst affected by the deteriorated security situation in Afghanistan. It has hosted millions of Afghan refugees since the Russian invasion in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives since the US invasion in Afghanistan in 2001. Its economy is devastated. Now the terrorism and regional instability are also jeopardizing the mega economic game-changing project like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPEC). Naturally, Pakistan is the foremost beneficiary of the peace and stability in this region. Therefore, there is no apparent logical reason to doubt Pakistan’s sincere intention to bring lasting peace in Afghanistan. Presently, Pakistan is a country which is most actively fighting against the terrorists in the world. The Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched by Pakistan armed forces two years ago, is the largest extensive military maneuvering against the terrorism in the world in recent times.

On the other hand, the US and its strategic partner- India are the ultimate beneficiaries of the current status quo i.e. the volatile security situation in Afghanistan. Their national and strategic interests in the region necessarily demand a political as well as administrative status quo in Afghanistan. India has consolidated its position in Afghanistan primarily to execute the ‘strategic encirclement’ strategy against its arch-foe- Pakistan. Similarly, the US has to stay in this region to accomplish certain objectives under its so-called Greater Middle East Initiatives as well as recently-evolved ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy. Having concluded UN-mandated Operation Enduring Freedom in 2014, the US launched the Operation Resolute Support Mission to justify its further stay in Afghanistan. Now, under Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the US troops will remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2024.

Last week, India, Afghanistan and Iran signed a tripartite agreement to develop Iranian Chabahar port and a linked trade corridor. India has pledged $500 million for this project. This project primarily aims at providing a sea access to land-locked Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics by bypassing Pakistan, and thereby reducing the dependence of these countries on Pakistan. Now Iran’s Chabahar port is being generally viewed in juxtaposition with Pakistan’s Gwadar port. It will certainly give rise to new rivalries in this region. Now, the latest drone attack in Pakistan, killing Mullah Akhtar Mansour, is another significant development. This act necessarily shows the US intentions and the trajectory of its future counter-terror strategy in this region. Therefore, the recent ‘signal’ conveyed by the US should not be overlooked.

While criticizing Pakistan for allegedly pursuing its ‘good and bad Taliban’ policy, it should never be forgotten Pakistan is not the only country which can be blamed for this duplicity. In order to articulate their broader strategic interests in this region, all the regional countries and global major powers are also readily adhering to this policy in one way or the other. Pakistan sternly believes that India and incumbent Kabul regime are actively facilitating and aiding the TTP militants and leaders to plan and execute terrorist activities inside Pakistan. When Pakistan Army launched Zarb-e-Azb military offensive in the tribal areas two years ago, a number high-profile TTP activists, including its chief Maulvi Fazlullah, fled to Afghanistan. Ever since, they are enjoying safe haven in Afghanistan. It is really regrettable that the US can easily trace and kill Afghan Taliban leader like Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a foreign country but can’t notice extensive terrorist activities, being planned and carried-out, under its very nose in Afghanistan. Obviously the US myopia or rather blindness in this respect is quite understandable.

Keeping in view the prevailing ground realities in the region, presently Afghan peace is just in the middle of nowhere. The QCG has apparently failed to accomplish its primary objective of making peace in Afghanistan by bringing various antagonist Afghan groups close together. The troubled Pak-US bilateral relations have further deteriorated following the US drone strike in Baluchistan. The mistrust and friction between Kabul and Islamabad has steadily increased over a period of time. There is also no visible improvement in the long-strained Pak-Iran bilateral relations. In this perspective, one can by no means expect a sustainable peace in Afghanistan in near future.

At present, there exists a US-Afghanistan-India triangular power structure which is calling the shots as far as the future of Afghanistan is concerned. In this respect, the role of all other immediate neighbors of Afghanistan, including Pakistan, has been marginalized. Since the QCG peace initiatives have observably failed to bring about positive change in Afghanistan, therefore, now there ought to be some multilateral and inclusive diplomatic endeavours to seek a pragmatic remedy for the current Afghan woes. For this purpose, all regional countries should positively exercise their influence to bring various Afghan ethnic groups on the negotiating table in the greater interest of Afghanistan.

First of all, all the regional and international power brokers must stop articulating their selfish strategic interests in this region by extensively using their proxies in the form of various violent non state actors. Surely, Afghanistan should no longer be a proxy playground. The long-pursued policy of ‘good and bad Taliban’ should also be abandoned forthwith on both sides of the Durand Line. The cliché like ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ peace process will hardly help setting things right unless there are some sincere efforts to bring genuine and durable peace in Afghanistan. Obviously actions always speak louder than words.