AFTER the second round of the Afghan peace talks was sabotaged, Pakistan was able to bring back the concerned parties on the table. The third round of four members-USA-China-Afghanistan-Pakistan dialogue was held in Islamabad on Monday Jan. 11. During the meeting, participants debated on “Quest for peace in Afghanistan: Role of neighboring countries” and focused on the role of America, China and Pakistan in finding a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.
Pakistan assured the participants for its commitment to facilitate an intra-Afghan reconciliation process aimed on bringing lasting peace to war-torn Afghanistan. However, a missing link to the Afghan puzzle was the absence of Talibans in the talks. Previous talks had their representative. However with the news of Mullah Omar’s death was floated, the talks were stalled.
The main purpose of current talks was to have a successful dialogue between the concerned who have common vision for peace and security, economic cooperation and combating terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking. With the absence of Taliban, the talks became meaningless. Apparently, it is difficult for the parties to pick the right representation from Taliban. The peace process has to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned as an externally imposed settlement is neither desirable nor it would be sustainable.
The role of Pakistan, China and the United States should be basically to facilitate the process. So, will this meeting lead to peace in Afghanistan? It appears not! The Afghans have not only the issue of identifying the right Taliban faction to represent them in the forum, but also the issue of ethnic divisions among them.
Afghanistan is landlocked and has to depend on the neighboring countries for support. The people in the bordering countries also form some of the leading groups in the Afghan society. The presence of Islamic State and Al-Qaida fighters further complicate the situation. Rich in resources, the Indians also has an eye towards its iron ores and are looking for a safe passage through Pakistan. Presence of western forces although limited in number, keeps the Afghans remaindering of their role in defeating Talibans. Afghan problem is not so easy to understand and resolve. It is a country, where a handful of foreigners assist the locals in running the country from Kabul with a fear of being overrun by Talibans produced by Pakistan.
Therefore, Pakistan need to play a greater role in bringing peace in Afghanistan and the region and it needs the cooperation from all the players including Talibans and India. However, there is an important issue which never comes on the surface for the reason to control Afghanistan-The opium trade.
The Russians came earlier to control Afghanistan for the purpose of reaping from its resources and having control on the land cultivating opium, could not do so. They were driven out and then came the Americans to have control on the opium trade. Afghanistan, Myanmar, Mexico, and Columbia account for nearly all of opium’s underground production, with Afghanistan alone representing roughly 90 percent of output. The illicit trade flourishes in the Golden Crescent referring to parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two major corridors – The Balkan Route and The Northern Route – are used to transport Afghan opium to international markets. The Balkan Route sees opium move to Iran via Pakistan, before traveling west through Turkey and Greece, ultimately reaching Western Europe. The Northern Route mainly moves opium through northern Afghanistan into Central Asian for the Russian market. Control of opium trade is important. However, as opium has also a medicinal use, pharma companies can take advantage and lay industry to refine opium for the medical use.
Afghanistan is rich in natural resources, therefore different parties have their own reasons to control Afghanistan. It has seen many rulers in past and have thrown out its occupiers. Therefore, it is the people of Afghanistan who need to decide their fate. Pakistan can work as a mediator in bringing peace in Afghanistan. However, Americans and China also need to decide to what extent they would like to benefit from Afghanistan-Benefiting themselves should not be at the cost of Afghanis.
Dr. Minhaj A. Qidwai is a Marketing, Management, and Education consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org