“If they want peace, nations should avoid the pin-pricks that precede
cannon-shots.”
- Napoleon
No one can deny the dividends that will be harvested by the South Asian region in case peace returns to Afghanistan. The cost of war and public opinion has forced the US and Nato troops to finally decide to pull out from the country.
It is also true that when the occupation forces withdraw in 2014, the local security apparatus will neither be able to restore peace, nor establish the government’s writ. So a country ruled by different warlords on ethnic and sectarian lines will continue to create problems not only for its neighbours, but also the international community.
When the media reported that senior Afghan officials have held secret talks with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and an Afghan Taliban leader, it was felt that better sense had prevailed. Pakistan after its negotiations on several strategic issues with the US had eventually decided to “play an active role” to speed up the peace process in Afghanistan.
Initially, Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed the reports, but later he denied. In addition, Rangin Spanta, the Afghan National Security Advisor, disclosed that contact had been made with a key Taliban leader, who was in the custody of Pakistani security forces.
Whatever the truth, there is no denying the fact that Mullah Baradar can play a key role in establishing peace in Afghanistan - a country devastated by war for over three decades. Its effects will also be felt in Pakistan, since it will create conditions that may reduce insurgent infiltration from Afghanistan into Pakistan. This will certainly be no mean achievement, as it will allow Pakistan to concentrate on rehabilitating its people, who have been displaced from their homes due to militancy, and rebuild areas that were neglected because of the Afghan war.
Needless to say that the importance of maintaining peace in Afghanistan is also recognised by President Asif Zardari and his party. Perhaps, this will be an election year and if the government is able to maintain peace in the war-torn country, the PPP will definitely yield positive results.
Peace in Afghanistan will also mean the reduction of disproportionate influence that New Delhi has been able to achieve there. It is expected that Islamabad will make it clear to Washington and Kabul that if they sincerely want to maintain peace in the war-torn country, they will have to cut the India’s growing tentacles.
To restore Pakistan’s confidence that the Karzai regime is actually interested in bringing back peace to the country, it is essential to shutdown the militant training camps that are established by the Indian government. Simultaneously, it will have to hand over the criminals wanted by Islamabad for heinous crimes, like murder and kidnapping, and will also have to cut off their relations with the so-called Baloch Liberation Army (BLA).
On the other hand, if Washington and its puppets in Kabul indulge in lip service and their traditional hypocrisy, peace will remain elusive in Afghanistan. It must be understood that if the opportunity to establish peace before the US and Nato troop withdrawal is lost, then there will be more turmoil and bloodshed creating a damning situation for the poor Afghanis.
Afghanistan, therefore, will create more opportunities for those who want to establish their writ through violent means. Consequently, the country will continue to breed militancy that is not in anyone’s interest. However, it is expected that the Americans will explore every opportunity that is available to create peaceful conditions and prosperity in Afghanistan in the years to come. To achieve this objective, the Afghan people must be immediately rehabilitated and infrastructure rebuild, besides improving their education and health care facilities.
Further, an important question that needs to be answered is: how will the Karzai government cope with the vast quantity of arms and ammunition that is easily available in Afghanistan and a main source of trouble for it and other regional countries?
While Pakistan is prepared to play a positive role in this regard, the present Afghan government that does not command popular sentiment in Afghanistan and the Indians will continue to act as spoilers. It is, thus, essential that both the countries establish their credentials for peace through their deeds. Only then it will be useful for the Americans and the Pakistanis to play a constructive role in Afghanistan in particular and the region in general.
The US must pressurise the Afghan government to cooperate with Pakistan and China, since they can play a dominant role in the region as well as create conditions for trade and commerce that will benefit the Afghanis. Iran, too, must be kept in the loop, if Washington sincerely wants to maintain law and order in the country before its exit. 
While this may seem to be quite challenging and a little far-fetched at present, the consideration that the region is waiting to reap the benefits of peace is, in itself, a compelling reason, which should force these countries to move in unison in that direction. Failure should not be considered as an option and all those whose destinies are connected with Afghanistan’s progress must travel an extra mile to ensure that the people living in this region are able to improve their lives. This can only happen if peace returns to the region.
Nevertheless, the glimmer of hope that has come with the report that Islamabad, Washington and Kabul have taken the initiative to open a dialogue process with the Taliban should not be allowed to fade away. Indeed, efforts must be made to provide more strength and vitality to it, as the destiny of millions of people is attached to the peace in Afghanistan.
    The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.
    Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com