As Afghanistan pushes ahead with the slow, tortuous process of trying to engage with the Taliban, CEO Abdullah Abdullah believes Pakistan holds the key to a successful outcome.
After all, Taliban leaders and some groups are based in Pakistan as the fighting continues and Afghanistan tries to convince all stakeholders that terrorism and radicalisation will not serve the interests of all countries in the region, he said.
“Pakistan is the country which can do the most in terms of influencing the Taliban’s attitude, I think Pakistan has the most influence,” Abdullah said during an interaction with a group of journalists.
“Though there is no country that can control the attitude of every single Taliban fighter, in the overall picture, Pakistan is the country which has most influence.”
Days ahead of the next meeting in Islamabad of the quadrilateral process involving Afghan, Chinese, Pakistan and US officials, Abdullah said the “main obstacle” to the nascent peace process is that the Taliban have given no indication that they will renounce violence, sever links with terror groups and become part of the political set-up.
Besides, the Taliban were “more divided than ever” following the revelation last year that their supreme leader Mullah Omar had died in 2013. The process had been further complicated by the emergence of the Daesh or Islamic State and its rivalry with the Taliban, the 55-year-old Abdullah said.
“We are keen to pursue the peace process,” he said. But the complexities were evident because the Taliban launched a war for two years in the name of Mullah Omar and Taliban representatives made contacts with the government in his name even though the supreme leader had been dead during this period, Abdullah pointed out.
After the news of Mullah Omar’s death became public, there had been no further contacts with the Taliban and the quadrilateral process is now working on a roadmap to take things forward.
Abdullah was quick to dismiss any suggestion that India was in the dark about the peace process simply because it had no formal role in it. He said there were other forums, such as the 6+1 group on Afghanistan, that help Kabul keep New Delhi “appraised of all developments”.
Describing India as a strategic partner, he said: “India is a trusted friend who has stayed together with us and contributed to the well-being of millions of Afghans.”
He added: “India’s position is that the process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and India is fully in the picture...I don’t think there is a desire to keep any country out (of the process).
Abdullah praised India’s role in development and infrastructure projects, such as the construction of hospitals, the Salma Dam, the new parliament building and the push to connect Afghanistan with Iran’s Chahbahar port, and made a special note of New Delhi’s recent decision to provide four Mi-35 gunship helicopters.
Abdullah refused to comment on reports of a link between the near-simultaneous attacks on the Pathankot airbase and the Indian consulate at Mazar-e-Sharif and Pakistan’s accusation that Pakistani Taliban fighters operate from Afghan soil but said: “We know what’s happening, we have suffered for years because of the activities of groups which we know where they are based.
“The issue is that there are enough lessons for all of us. There is one big lesson that these terrorist groups, regardless of who created them, who helped or supported them, (they) will turn against the states.”