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Tatyana Kanunnikova

Independent journalist, RIAC expert

Kh Khalid Farooq

Expert in terrorism and former Head of National Counter-Terrorism Authority of Pakistan

RIAC Expert Tatyana Kanunnikova talks with Kh Khalid Farooq, expert in terrorism and former Head of National Counter-Terrorism Authority of Pakistan (NACTA), about improving the situation in Afghanistan, negotiations with Taliban, and the areas for Russia and Pakistan can cooperate in.

RIAC Expert Tatyana Kanunnikova talks with Kh Khalid Farooq, expert in terrorism and former Head of National Counter-Terrorism Authority of Pakistan (NACTA), about improving the situation in Afghanistan, negotiations with Taliban, and the areas for Russia and Pakistan can cooperate in.

On Feb 5–6, the Taliban political envoys met with Afghan political leaders in Moscow to discuss the peace process. The event was organized by the Afghan diaspora but representatives from Pakistan took part in this meeting as well. How would you assess its outcome?

Kh Khalid Farooq

The meeting between the Taliban and other important groups and leaders from Afghanistan minus the ruling government representation was quite important as it paved the way for negotiations between these opposing groups. Direct dialogue helped to understand each other’s viewpoint quite clearly. Although it was the first meeting, exchange of ideas and goodwill it generated at the early stage was quite laudable. The initial breakthrough was made. This means the start of negotiations between Taliban and other political groups, which is in itself very important as it has initiated the process of dialogue amongst Afghans.

In this meeting, Russian government representatives were missing which was very intelligent on their part. They played the role of a facilitator covertly so that no power struggle ensues. Even Z. Khalilzad welcomed it in his recent address at USIP, Washington DC.

It was reported that Trump was planning to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan. During talks in Moscow, Taliban leaders reiterated that the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan was a prerequisite for peace. However, according to US officials, no troop withdrawal timetable has been taking place. In your opinion, will it happen? What implications will it have for the neighboring countries including Russia?

President Trump has reiterated many times recently that he wants to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, although no official statement has been issued so far. Nevertheless, the intent to withdraw the boots on the ground is clear. Forces will be reduced leading to the total withdrawal within a year and a half expectedly. However, no timetable has been officially announced pending the resolution of other important issues. But analyzing the futility of this long-drawn war in Afghanistan, it is quite obvious that the US has decided in principle to reduce its active participation there.

If appropriate security measures are not taken in the transitional period, the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan is going to have an impact on regional states neighbouring Afghanistan like Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran, etc. To achieve a better outcome, broader critical issues have to be addressed and satisfactory guarantees obtained. Posting of the UN-led peacekeeping force is one of the options. Moreover, many other issues like appropriate change in the constitution, women empowerment, educational system and representation of major ethnic groups in the political set-up are of vital importance.

You mentioned the need to change the Afghan constitution. The Taliban leadership has announced recently their intention to change the constitution. So what are the prospects of such change?

There will definitely be a revision of the constitution to accommodate the demands of the Taliban who have been critical of the present constitution. It is too early to predict how much the constitution will be amended after the dialogue.

Some experts believe that such negotiations lead to further weakening of President Ashraf Ghani-led government. At present, Kabul is losing its grip over parts of Afghanistan despite air campaigns intensified by US forces. What are the prospects for the current government of Afghanistan? What fatal mistakes has it made?

There is no direct involvement of present Kabul government in the negotiations between the US and Taliban. Although SIGAR has kept them in the loop and consults the government before parleys and briefs them afterward as well. Even at the recent meeting in Moscow Taliban refused to participate in the presence of representatives of the government, indicating reduced relevance of President Ashraf Ghani. This puts the government in an embarrassing position for the time being.

Ultimately, however, there can’t be any agreement without consent and signatures of the government. Taliban, as announced, will have direct dialogue with them alongside other political groups after they achieve clear cut commitments from the US on important issues, especially a timetable for withdrawal.

After breaking news of US troops withdrawal and positive meeting with Taliban, the political position of Ashraf Ghani has worsened. His important political allies like National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar have already left him. Realignment between different political groups is taking place which will further progress when official truce agreement is announced. Tribal regrouping in tribal society will hasten observing the strength of the Taliban and their power-sharing in a post-withdrawal scenario.

A recent tweet by President Ashraf Ghani supporting the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement’s (PTM) demands amounts to open interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan which indicates his desperation.

The Taliban appointed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to lead its political office in Qatar, which will hold talks on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Moscow welcomed this move stressing that he is a deputy of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the leader of Taliban. How will this appointment help the peace process?

Appointment of Mullah Baradar as Head of Doha negotiation team is important. He has a high position amongst the Taliban and is considered to be a pro-peace person. He was released by Pakistan on the request of the US to facilitate the peace process.

What is the role of Pakistan in the peace settlement in Afghanistan?

Amongst all Afghanistan’s neighbors, Pakistan plays the most vital role in the peace process and afterwards. In addition to being bordering country stretching over the porous borderline of 2,430 km with Afghanistan, it has deep ethnic relations with Pashtuns of Afghanistan. Pakistan is the main gateway to sea route for Afghanistan. Around 50,000 people travel to Pakistan from Afghanistan daily. More than 2 million Afghan refugees are still in Pakistan.

In view of this, better cordial relations are a must for peace in the area. Pakistan needs to put all political pressure on the Taliban to make dialogue for peace successful and avoid unnecessary hurdles.

What are the areas where Pakistan and Russia can work together to help to achieve peace in Afghanistan?

Russia — Pakistan relations are improving under the changed international scenario. The US has been quite tough with Pakistan due to a change in their priorities. India has now assumed a strategic position in American foreign policy. The US erroneously perceives India as a good partner against Chinese expansion. Hence in all matters, it has given preference to Indian interests including The Nuclear Suppliers Group. All types of aid to Pakistan have been suspended by the US.

Under these circumstances, Pakistan has been moving towards improvement in its bilateral relations with Russia. Armed forces of both countries have held joint exercises as well. Pakistan will appreciate a more active role by Russia in the region in addition to China which has been a close ally. The mutual efforts of Russia and Pakistan can be very useful in furtherance peace in Afghanistan.

There are groups in Afghanistan with whom Russia had cordial relations in the past. Major terror threat to the region comes from ISIS in Afghanistan. Hopefully, joint efforts by regional countries will be quite fruitful in eliminating IS from Afghanistan as it is against the security interests of all neighbors.

Apart from threats coming from Afghanistan, what other terrorism-related challenges should Russia and Pakistan tackle together? Is there cooperation between security agencies in the field of tracing foreign fighters?

With the advent of Al-Qaeda, ISIS etc., terrorism has become transnational in nature. There is a need to develop close interaction and exchange of information between security agencies of Pakistan and Russia. Presently, although I’m not updated, there is a lack of close mutual cooperation. With relations developing, I think this will further improve. Pakistan doesn’t have any interest in supporting terrorism in Russia. More interaction between senior leaders and intelligence functionaries can be very helpful for curbing terrorism challenges.


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