The rapidly changing Afghan political landscape heralds opportunities for the Afghan leadership as well as for the regional stakeholders. In a recent meeting between General Bajwa and Afghan leadership in Kabul, both countries have reiterated for a peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue and intra-Afghan talks. Amidst these developments, the appointment of Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq as special representative for Afghanistan affairs is an important step which comes as a sign that Pakistan, in changing dynamics, would re-engage and re-develop its diplomatic relations with the various Afghan political factions and regional stakeholders.

The times have changed for Afghanistan. The new social dynamics and the political changes envisage the Taliban in the power sharing equation. Moreover, the commencement of the intra-Afghan talks doesn’t seem to be unachievable. There seems to be a realisation among the Taliban and the Kabul government that if they want to build on the peace deal, they’ll have to show flexibility, which would not be seen as weakness but as willingness to bring peace. The recent prisoners’ swap hints at the urge from both sides that peace must be given a chance.

In a realist interpretation of the Afghan war, whoever dominates the battlefield benefits at the negotiations table. Nothing is settled until everything is settled. Therefore, the violence continues. That’s the Afghan way. Taliban continue to carry out attacks widely and in several Afghan provinces. The Kabul government blames the Taliban for the brutal attacks in Kabul and the clashes continue. This security situation is a concern for all of Afghanistan’s neighbours and major regional stakeholders. It is expected that the intra-Afghan talks may start next month but if the clashes continue the chances of talks become bleak. This can be detrimental for the regional peace. In this challenging scenario diplomacy aiming at intra-Afghan talks and regional cooperation can play an important role.

In a joint statement, Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran have reiterated their support for intra-Afghan peace talks noting that the intra-afghan talks may start and address the internal political imbroglio. However, all the major stakeholders in Afghanistan also observed that the withdrawal of the US troops should be a “responsible” and “orderly” withdrawal. The underlying apprehensions in the joint statement are that the withdrawal of the troops should not leave a security vacuum in the country that may be filled by terrorist organisations who continue to pose a grave threat to the Afghans and their neighbouring countries.

Among the terrorist organisations who continue to undermine the Afghan security are ISIS, ETIM, TTP and several others. ISIS, which is one of the deadliest, has carried out attacks in Kabul in recent weeks targeting innocent civilians and minorities. While the Kabul administration and the Taliban continue to keep the possibilities of intra-Afghan talks alive, the role that these spoilers and their supporters can play, must never be underestimated. It is also important to keep in mind that there are several influential groups and factions inside the Afghan government who do not approve of the US-Taliban deal or the future intra-Afghan talks involving the Taliban. It simply doesn’t fit their schemes. Nonetheless, the Taliban and the Afghan government continue to release each other’s prisoners, giving hope that once the prisoners are released the gesture can pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.

The spirit of the intra-Afghan talks lies in the diversity of the Afghan population. Today’s Afghanistan is different from what it was 20 years back. The Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbek are among the many other ethnic groups who have evolved into influential political groups over the years. Any political settlement that does not take into account the diversity and interests of these groups would be short-lived. Therefore, it is imperative for regional stakeholders to invest in the diversity that holds the Afghan spirit.

Pakistan is among the major influential countries when it comes to Afghanistan. It has supported peace talks and mechanisms that are Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. However, it also leads the regional efforts and concerns on the peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue. Pakistan is involved with Afghanistan on many levels. From hosting millions of refugees to mutual trade, Pakistan and Afghanistan are neighbours that have a plethora of opportunities as well as challenges that need to be addressed at the earliest, for this, a pro-active diplomatic mechanism needs to be revamped by Pakistan.

Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq’s appointment as special representative for Afghanistan is a timely decision that may bring fruitful results for Pakistan. It is hoped that it will improve Pakistan’s diplomatic and political clout in Afghanistan and in the region. Ambassador Sadiq is a revered Pakistani diplomat who has an acute understanding of the Afghan matters and its evolving dynamics. It is the right time that Pakistan engages all the Afghan stakeholders and all the ethnicities across Afghanistan to tap the true potential of Afghanistan-Pakistan relations.

The writer is a foreign policy analyst and talk show host based in Islamabad. He tweets @ShamilTaimur.