Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Prisoners Freed, Indian ITBP Recalled, Is Pakistan Finally Making Inroads Into Afghanistan?

Soon after the historic US-Taliban peace deal was brokered, fault lines started appearing when the Taliban almost pulled out from ‘fruitless negotiations’ making an already anxious Pakistan jittery. 

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As EurAsian Times reported, the Afghan Government did release 100 Taliban prisoners as a path to intra-Afghan dialogue.

This comes a day after Waheed Omar, a top advisor to President Ghani, stated that the release of Taliban prisoners is a lengthy process and there is no need to panic. He said that the Afghan government remains dedicated to the prisoner swap with the Taliban, but in order to make this happen, there is a need for good intentions from both sides.

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The fragile truce that has temporarily prevailed in Afghanistan almost suffered a major setback with the Taliban pulling out of negotiations with Ghani Government putting a big question mark over the peace treaty and the region’s security.

Almost a week-long face to face negotiations between the Afghan Government and Taliban came almost to a grinding halt because the two parties could not reach a conclusion citing each other’s demands unreasonable.

The exchange of prisoners is seen to be the first step towards achieving long-lasting peace in Afghanistan and releasing 100 Taliban prisoners is a small, yet significant step towards the mission.

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Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the insurgent group had earlier tweeted from the Taliban’s office in Qatar saying that the group will not participate in ‘fruitless negotiations’ when the release of Taliban prisoners is being delayed by the Afghan Government under one pretext or another.

However, Abdu Matin Bek, a member of the negotiating team from the Afghan Government said that the Taliban was demanding the release of 15 of the most dreaded commanders that have been involved in the most deadly attacks in the country. “We cannot release the killers of our people,” he said.

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The Afghan Government had reportedly shown willingness to release up to 400 low-level Taliban operatives and has offered the conditional release of another 1500 prisoners in return for Taliban agreeing to hand over key Aghan security personnel and to reduce violence in the war-torn country.

However, the Government refused to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners under the terms of the US -Taliban deal, saying that the Afghan Government had not made such an agreement.

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The Taliban are not serious about the peace talks which had reached an important phase, according to Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council. “We ask the Taliban to not sabotage the process by making excuses.” He added that the Government remained committed towards the peace talks.

The announcement by the Taliban has come after it had issued a warning regarding the same a few days back and had accused Americans of repeatedly violating the peace deal by carrying out brutal drone attacks. The US Forces-Afghanistan called the accusations baseless. However, USFOR-A spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett in a tweet said, “We will defend our ANDSF partners if attacked, in compliance of the agreement.”

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US-Taliban Peace Deal

Under the terms of the agreement, US President Donald Trump had announced the withdrawal of 5,000 US troops by end of May 2020 while remaining US and NATO troops were to withdraw in the next 14 months as long as the Taliban held their end of the bargain.

The US had also agreed to lift the sanctions imposed by them and the United Nations on the insurgent group in exchange of assurance that the Taliban will not allow a safe haven to any extremist groups in their territory.

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The US had also agreed to a prisoner swap between the Afghan Government and Taliban as a first step towards a long-lasting peace.

Why is Pakistan Jittery?

The almost breakdown in talks and the sluggish speed at which peace talks are moving has made Islamabad jittery who are believed to have played a crucial role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and also are one of the beneficiaries of the deal.

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The increase in violence in Afghanistan has resulted in the influx of extremist ideology and more cross border terrorism along with huge migration and increased drug trade. The long border between Pakistan and Afghanistan — the Durand Line which is 2,640 km long has made it difficult for Pakistan to control the influx of terrorists from Afghanistan.

The almost breakdown in talks also made Islamabad anxious because the country has suffered huge economic losses as well as human resource losses from the persistent war. Moreover, Pakistan has always viewed Afghanistan from the prism of India.

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Meanwhile, as you may interpret,  the Indian Government brought back ITBP commandos deployed in Afghanistan by an Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft on Tuesday night, effectively closing down the operations at its consulates in Herat and Jalalabad.

A high-level security group decided to recall all personnel from the two consulates, close to Afghanistan’s borders with Iran and Pakistan respectively, given increased security tensions in the wake of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, increased activity by Pakistan-based terror.

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Pakistan believes a stable Government in Afghanistan favoring Islamabad will secure its borders from encroachment by India thereby preventing it from getting surrounded and ensure its interest is served.

Pakistan also wants the recognition of the de facto Durand Line as the official border between the Kabul and Islamabad which the Ghani government has often disputed. The peace deal, as envisioned by Islamabad, will also lay a vital part in repatriating over 2 million Afghan refugees from Pakistan.

The OpEd has been penned by Nitin J Ticku who is a MARCOM specialist with a deep interest in Education, Defence and Geopolitics. Nitin holds a double masters degree in Business Management and Journalism and is a frequent contributor to the EurAsian Times.

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