On February 14th, the Afghan Taliban leaders surprised both Pakistan and the United States by agreeing to hold negotiations with the two countries in Islamabad. Having negotiations in Islamabad, which is a three hour drive from the Afghan Border in Peshawar, was an exponentially meaningful step towards peace than the usual US-Taliban meetings that were occurring in Qatar. This visit would represent the first time the Afghan insurgents have openly met with Pakistani leaders since their five-year regime in Kabul was overthrown in 2001. It sounded like a perfect opportunity to achieve a breakthrough in the peace talks- alas it appears this visit will not happen.

The elephant in the room, or to put it more accurately, not in the room, is the absence of the Afghan government in the peace process. The Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani lodged a strong complaint with the UN Security Council against Pakistan for the latter’s role in recent months in facilitating Taliban negotiations alleging that the process is a violation of sovereignty of the landlocked country.

The US who, despite being eager to finalise the settlement of the Afghanistan issue, has not given a proper reply on whether it would attend the talks, and the fated negotiations to be held in Islamabad seem unlikely to be held in this week.

Fairly put, the Afghan government does have a right to be part of the peace process. Ghani has been left out on two fronts- his government has been excluded from discussions held between Taliban leaders and US State Department Representatives, and in meetings in Moscow between influential Afghans. The truth is that Ghani’s government is democratically elected and does deserve a seat at the table.

Yet Ghani is taking the most unproductive step he could take- by lashing out at Pakistan who is merely a moderator, and refusing to budge on including the Taliban in the process. Ghani is doing himself no favours by attempting to alienate Pakistan, who will be essential in any peace negotiation, by commenting on Pakistan’s internal affairs. A settlement with the Taliban is not Pakistan’s idea- there is near international consensus that this seems the only way out in Afghanistan currently. The goal - a peace deal - must be the ultimate objective; not the technicalities of how we got there.