While the Pakistani Prime Minister may have received flak from domestic parties for his comments in Iran, on the Afghanistan front, our foreign policy is evolving into a more mature and peace-based one. We undertook a big shift in our policy when, on Thursday. Pakistan pledged neutrality in the Afghan conflict and at the same time denounced both the Taliban’s spring offensive and intensified security operations by Afghan forces, saying such actions weaken prospects for peace. In a policy statement on Afghan peace, Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the offensives, stating that they undermine the peace process, and that “it is not right to seek an edge in dialogue through coercion.”

This position of neutrality is a departure from the Pakistani government’s previous comments on the Afghan conflict, which certainly appeared to be taking an active interest in the power play of the region. Previously in March, the government had made statements which were not entirely flattering to the Afghan government, calling them a hurdle to the peace process, and suggesting that an interim government would help break the deadlock in the on-going peace talks spearheaded by the United States. This did not go over well with the Afghan government, which indeed played a major role in slowing down the peace process. With those comments, the Afghan government seemed even more intent on delaying the dialogue for the Afghan conflict, and this standstill in talks may have caused the Taliban to retaliate with their recent offensives.

With that context in mind, Pakistan’s new approach is a well-placed one that should play well for all sides on the dialogue table. Our position of neutrality should placate the Afghan government’s initial anger and hopefully drive them to be conducive to the peace process. By appeasing the Afghan government and initiating warmer relations with it, Pakistan can enable the peace process to occur with more ease and our position as a facilitator of the process will be more credible. Secondly, it was very important the government condemn the Taliban’s offensives, since violence should never be sought as a tool to blackmail a party into acceptance of demands.

After some ups and downs with the Afghanistan government, with rhetorical hits delivered by both sides at each, this line taken by the Pakistan government is much more appropriate. Let’s not force the negotiation - let it be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.