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Candid admission

The Pakistan prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, made a candid assertion during a recent talk in Washington at the Council on Foreign Relations. In replying to a question on the situation in Afghanistan and how much of a role Islamabad could play in the peace process, Aziz implicitly admitted that the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is living in Pakistan. “We have some influence on them because their leadership is in Pakistan, and they get some medical facilities, their families are here. So we can use those levers to pressurise them to say, come to the table.” Suffice to say, strategic analysts have viewed his comments as the most candid admission ever by a Pakistani official that Afghan insurgents enjoy safe havens in Pakistan. Islamabad has often denied that it had any influence on the Taliban, or that its administration has provided safe havens on Pakistani soil except in the semi-autonomous tribal region on the border with Afghanistan. Analysts have also pointed out that Aziz’s remarks come in the wake of the Pakistan army’s 20-month anti-terror military operation in these regions. Soon after the Peshawar school massacre Pakistan army Chief General Raheel Sharif, accompanied by Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant-General Rizwan Akhtar, went to Kabul to reportedly register Pakistan’s protest over Afghanistan’s lack of action against the Tehrik-i-Taliban. While the Pakistan army protested in Kabul, it has done little to support the latter’s peace initiatives to end the confrontation with the Afghan Taliban. The US-backed regime propped up in Kabul has clearly been unable to establish its authority with the Taliban gaining ground. In response, the US has sought Pakistan’s help to facilitate the peace process. It would be fair to assume that the script has gone terribly wrong for both Kabul and the US. Bitter fighting has ensued in key provinces of Afghanistan, and its army is not equipped to defeat the Taliban. According to a veteran Indian journalist on strategic affairs, “Instead of compelling the Taliban leadership to talk, it’s (Pakistan) allowed their largest offensive in years to surge forward. In effect, it’s stringing Afghanistan along, until the Taliban bring the government to its knees. Islamabad’s compulsions are simple. Pakistan can’t risk the Afghan Taliban joining hands with the Pakistani Taliban networks and the Islamic State led by Khan Saeed, who want to overthrow the government. That could end in a war larger than the Pakistan army is prepared to fight. It is simply in no position, therefore, to restrain the Taliban.” Therefore, it seems unlikely that the civil war in Afghanistan will end anytime soon.
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