WASHINGTON: A joint report to the US Congress states that China and Pakistan have an idea of how to protect their rights in Afghanistan, and Islamabad has a leading role to play in this policy.
“The growing closeness of the relationship between China and Pakistan means that Beijing’s Afghanistan policy has, for the most part, hewed closely to that of Islamabad, with Islamabad taking the lead,” the study adds.
Recognizing Pakistan’s central position in the Afghan peace process, the paper, submitted to Congress on Wednesday, urges the Biden administration to collaborate with Islamabad to end decades of war and devastation in Afghanistan.
The study also calls on new US leaders to delay the May deadline for American troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, arguing that an early departure will allow militant groups to re-emerge.
A US-Taliban deal concluded last year in Doha calls for a complete withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan by May. However, the report requested by Congress in 2019 by the Afghanistan Study Group suggests a “immediate diplomatic effort to extend the current withdrawal date of May 2021 in order to give the peace process sufficient time to produce an acceptable outcome.”
The study claims that “the Taliban are not an international terrorist organisation, and there is no evidence that they have any intention of attacking the United States,” justifying the shift in US attitude towards Afghanistan.
The report notes that “there is broad regional support for a US withdrawal that is responsible rather than precipitous and chaotic,” even within the Afghanistan-Pakistan zone.
Underlining the role of Pakistan in the peace process, the report states that “Pakistan has generally supported the US effort to negotiate with the Taliban,” a role that US officials have also publicly recognised.
“Many countries in the region, particularly Pakistan, have influence over the Taliban and other peace process participants,” the report says, adding: “This influence should be used actively to make the peace process successful because it will ultimately benefit from its success.”
But the report clarifies that while Pakistan has power on the Taliban, “it does not have complete control over the movement.” The report argues that while Islamabad has always sought to preserve a strong relationship with the United States, it did not preclude the Taliban from establishing ties as well.
“There are, however, indications that, given the economic opportunities that would arise from a more stable Afghanistan and the possibility of the Taliban gaining a significant share of power, Pakistan is reevaluating some elements of its strategy,” the report continues.
Yet a radical shift in Pakistan’s Afghan strategy, ‘especially in the strategic thought of Pakistan’s politically influential military and intelligence services,’ seems impossible, the study argues.
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“Unstable Afghanistan risks destabilising the entire region, according to this report, in particular by “exacerbating the rivalry between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed powers.
The study points out that “three of its six immediate neighbours (China, Pakistan, and Iran) are actual or potential nuclear powers, because Afghanistan is in a dangerous region.” Also having nuclear weapons are two other regional powers, Russia and India.