The Doha peace deal was successful but Afghanistan’s neighbors must do more

The Doha peace deal was successful but Afghanistan’s neighbors must do more

Short Url

Four years ago, on February 29, 2020, the US and Afghan Taliban signed the Doha Peace deal which became a stepping stone for post-war Afghanistan. The deal entailed two objectives – withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan and intra-Afghan negotiations for a political settlement. When the Taliban entered Kabul and took over the reins of Afghanistan in August, the withdrawal of the US and NATO forces was completed smoothly. A larger political settlement could not be achieved owing primarily to unbridgeable intra-Afghan differences.
The Taliban take-over of the country this time was peaceful and complete. From the beginning the Taliban focused on the enforcement of security, law and order. Within a few weeks of the formation of the Afghan interim government, all of Afghanistan was declared accessible and safe for Afghans as well as foreigners. According to independent observers, in the past two and a half years the Afghan authorities have shown remarkable improvement in governance, revenue collection and development projects.
Some contradictions have continued to spoil efforts for full normalization of Afghanistan’s engagement with the rest of the world. Despite higher degree of stability in Afghanistan than any time in the past five decades, the international community is persisting with economic isolation and banking restrictions on Afghanistan. The country of 40 million people is being subjected to dollar smuggling or Hawala/Hundi transactions. The contradiction on behalf of the Afghan Taliban is their continued hard-line position on issues of inclusivity, human rights and counter-terrorism.

In trade, reportedly Iran for the first time has replaced Pakistan as the leading trading partner of Afghanistan. 

Mansoor Khan

While Afghanistan is seemingly on a path toward durable peace and stability, Pakistan-Afghanistan relations have witnessed unprecedented deterioration in the past couple of years. Instead of taking a larger and longer-term view of the opportunities, somehow security and terrorism issues particularly the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have come to the center stage of engagement. Pakistan’s demands for decisive actions against TTP commanders and elements using Afghan soil for militant attacks against Pakistan are not being adequately responded to by the Afghan interim government. The Afghan Taliban’s approach on dealing with the TTP or other global and regional terrorist groups as well as any limitations and constraints are not receiving any traction with Pakistan’s security institutions.
The situation has led to a stalemate where no institutional mechanism such as APAPPS (Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity) or a similar platform acceptable to both sides is operative. One consequence is the emanation of an environment of accusations and counter accusations continuously hindering efforts for rapprochement.
This dip in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations is distracting Pakistan from its geo-economic vision articulated in the country’s first National Security Policy approved by the Cabinet on December 28, 2021, outlining the idea of connectivity and cross-border linkages to actualize Pakistan’s potential as a regional hub and enter into development partnerships to move away from overwhelming dependence on foreign loans and handouts as national survival strategy. Connectivity with Afghanistan is of key importance for implementing Pakistan’s geo-economic strategy. It is also damaging Afghanistan’s interests toward expanding engagement and economic linkages with the rest of the world through Pakistan. 
The environment of tense relations and lack of engagement is already reflecting through the decrease in movements, bilateral trade, transit and commercial interaction marked by border closures and disturbances. There is increasing resentment among Afghans due to visa difficulties even for patients and students and non-facilitative border crossings. In trade, reportedly Iran for the first time has replaced Pakistan as the leading trading partner of Afghanistan. In such non-conducive conditions, the projects like trilateral railways between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan or Peshawar-Jalalabad and Quetta Kandahar railways are likely to remain shelved for some time.
This is taking place at a time when China is slowly but surely moving forward on strengthening engagement with the Afghan interim government. China has become the first country whose ambassador has formally presented credentials to Afghanistan’s interim Prime Minister while President Xi has also received credentials from Afghan Taliban’s ambassador in Beijing. China is cognizant that advancing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects and extending CPEC to Afghanistan requires institutional relations with the government.
Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighboring countries particularly Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as well as Iran are also deepening their economic interaction with Afghanistan. The railway link between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan through the town of Hairatan is already operational. Work on Iran-Afghanistan railway links is also moving at a fast pace. Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi has just concluded a visit to Turkmenistan for strengthening political and economic engagement.
The dilemma is that at this defining moment both Pakistan and Afghanistan are not looking keen to utilize their real strength which is the common bond between the people of the two countries. More than 50,000 Afghans educated from Pakistani colleges and universities have been working in Afghanistan in state and private sector institutions. Such a large human resource along with students educated in Pakistan who are now available in Afghanistan provides potential that should be tapped.
For practically moving forward on economic integration and regional connectivity, the two countries need to evolve a comprehensive and uninterrupted dialogue framework with a wider agenda of dealing with all issues of mutual interest.
Four years on, it’s logical to conclude that the Doha deal was an instrument for peaceful transition in Afghanistan, which it achieved. Addressing the issues of internal stability in Afghanistan such as a legal framework for inclusive governance, human rights and preventing Afghan soil to be used for militancy remain important challenge for the Afghan state and its people.
For the normalization of Afghanistan’s relations with other countries, its neighbors will have to play a constructive role. Pakistan-Afghanistan interaction will remain of crucial importance in this regard and hopefully the two sides will realize it sooner rather than later.

- Mansoor Ahmad Khan is Pakistan's former ambassador to Afghanistan. Former ambassador of Pakistan to Austria & PR to UN Vienna. Ex Chairman UN CND. Twitter @ambmansoorkhan

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view