The commotion and anxiety triggered by Trump’s policy on Afghanistan and South Asia seems to have been defused to some extent, thanks to a clear and firm stand taken by the civilian and military leadership against the military option to resolve Afghan conundrum. Pakistan seems to follow the good policy of rejecting allegations in regards to safe havens of terrorists on its soil, while reiterating its firm commitment to remain engaged in the process to promote Afghan-led and Afghan owned peace process at the bilateral and multilateral levels. The diplomatic offensive unfurled by Pakistan to seek support of the regional countries including China, Russia, Iran and Turkey further solidified and strengthened Pakistan’s position on the issue, which was amply manifested in the speech by the Prime Minister Shahid Khan Abbassi. His meeting with the United States (US) Vice President Mark Pence, who indicated the desire to remain engaged with Pakistan, also signifies a sort of climb-down by US from the position taken by the US President while announcing his policy.

Foreign minister Khawaja Asif in his interaction with Asia Society spoke with remarkable aplomb about the position taken by Pakistan and made a forceful case for peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict. He has already left for US to meet his counterpart US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and by the time these lines go to the print; the outcome of those parleys will have already been reported in the media. Nevertheless it is my presumption that while having a candid exchange of views, both sides would reiterate the need for continued engagement between the two countries. The US Secretary Defence in a statement on Tuesday said that US would try one more time to work with Pakistan in Afghanistan before President Donald Trump could turn to address Islamabad’s alleged support to militant groups.

Meanwhile another very positive development has taken place as a consequence of the visit of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Bajwa to Kabul as head of a high level delegation. According to Inter-Services Relations Pakistan (ISPR), the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani , who has been spitting venom against Pakistan, in a one-on-one meeting with General Bajwa said that Afghanistan and Pakistan were friendly countries and both shall move together towards enduring peace and stability. The press release issued by the ISPR in regards to the outcome of the visit stated,

“COAS offered complete support in achieving shared interests in war against terrorism including training and capacity building of Afghan security forces. Both sides agreed on the framework for working together towards peaceable environment conductive to political process essential for an enduring Afghan peace and regional stability. There was also a consensus on regular and focused dialogue at multiple levels to evolve bilateral process for minimizing misunderstanding, managing crisis situations and enhancing cooperation in order to bring peace and stability in the region”.

It all sounds nice and encouraging. The acknowledgement by the Afghan President of the imperative to work in collaboration with Pakistan to tackle the common challenges and threats is actually the endorsement of Pakistan’s view point in regards to finding a peaceful and permanent solution of the Afghan conundrum.

Nevertheless, the major sticking point between the US and Pakistan remains the question of safe havens for the militants on the Pakistani soil notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan has refuted this at the international forum as well as bilateral interactions with the US diplomats. Reportedly Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services committee on Tuesday that he believed that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had connections with terrorist groups. In the coming days, when formal contacts and parleys begin between Pakistan and US, the former probably will have to prove the veracity of its claims regarding non-existence of safe havens of terrorists on its soil and establish the fact that they actually existed on the Afghan territory occupied by the Afghan Taliban. Most of the TTP commanders and operative escaped into Afghanistan after the execution of operation Zarb-e-Azb and the follow up operations in Khyber agency and set up their training camps there from where they have been and are still planning and executing terrorist attacks within Pakistan.

Rapprochement with the Afghan government, removal of the ambience of mistrust between the two countries and the agreement for commencing collective efforts can help a great deal in establishing the credibility of Pakistan’s claims and reinforce its credentials as an honest broker of peace and a dependable partner in the fight against terrorism. That process needs to be pursued vigorously. That surely will test the diplomatic skills of our diplomatic Corps and the will and commitment of our security forces.

There are no two opinions about the fact peace in Afghanistan was imperative for peace in Pakistan and it would be the last country to allow safe havens for militants on its territory and foment instability in the region. We are dealing with the only Super Power of the world which requires vision and pragmatism. The onus of proving our claims about non-existence of safe havens of militants lies on us. We will have to convince the US about the veracity of our taken position on the issue through concrete and verifiable steps. If that is done, we can surely hope for setting up of a joint mechanism with US and the Afghan government to deal with terrorism, including management of borders simultaneously reactivating the Quadrilateral Arrangement, other initiatives like QCCG and efforts being made by the regional countries at the bilateral level.

There are no two opinions about the fact peace in Afghanistan is imperative for peace in Pakistan and it would be the last country to allow safe havens for militants on its territory and foment instability in the region.