Pakistan’s Sharif Urges Renewed Peace Talks in Afghanistan

Military Victory is Unlikely, Prime Minister Says

October 23, 2015
Gopal Ratnam

A military victory over the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan is unlikely, and the parties to the conflict must try to resolve it through negotiations, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said today.

“Over the past 14 years a military solution has been elusive,” Sharif said in a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace, referring to the Afghan war, the United States’ longest in history. “We believe it’s unlikely to be achieved in the future, thus achieving peace through negotiation is the best option.”

Sharif said Pakistan facilitated the first official peace talks, in July, between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but Taliban officials canceled a second round after news emerged that their movement’s iconic leader, Mullah Omar, had died.

“Without the authority of their leader to engage in the dialogue, the Taliban broke off the talks,” Sharif said. Amid an internal struggle over new leadership, “their default option was to revert to a fighting mode,” he said.

Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan are carried out by Taliban who have found safe havens inside that country, Sharif said. The movement originated, and has retained roots, in Pakistani borderlands with Afghanistan. Afghan and U.S. officials for years have accused Pakistan’s military of tolerating or sustaining the Afghan Taliban groups operating from Pakistani territory.

Pakistan is once again prepared to bring the Taliban to peace talks if Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants to re-engage, Sharif said. But “we cannot bring them to the table and kill them at the same time,” he said, referring to demands from Kabul that Pakistan destroy the Afghan Taliban presence in Pakistan.

Sharif-Obama Talks

Sharif, who has just completed two years in office, met yesterday with President Barack Obama at the White House. Sharif “reaffirmed that Pakistan’s territory will not be used against any other country and noted that this is an obligation of all countries in the region,” said a joint statement issued by the White House.  The United States and Pakistan favor an Afghan-led peace process with the Taliban, it said.

“There’s an urgent need now to get the political process back on track so it can reduce the violence in Afghanistan,” Stephen J. Hadley, chairman of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace, said in his opening remarks. Further deterioration of security in Afghanistan could push the country back to the anarchic days of the 1990s that led to the rise of the Taliban, and all countries in the region want to prevent that outcome, Hadley said.

Sharif became prime minister in 2013 after democratic elections in Pakistan led to a peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government to another for the first time in the country’s history. This is his third term as prime minister.

India-Pakistan Relations

On Pakistan’s relations with India, Sharif said that two opportunities for high-level talks between the countries were canceled by India.

“New Delhi canceled foreign secretary-level talks on flimsy excuse,” Sharif said referring to the August 2014 discussions that India called off after Pakistan’s high commissioner to India met with activists from the Indian-administered region of Kashmir who are seeking separation from India. Kashmir has been disputed between India and Pakistan since the two countries were partitioned at independence from British rule in 1947.

Another set of talks, between the national security advisers of both countries scheduled for this August, was “scuttled by India to limit the talks to one issue and to dictate the program” of Pakistan’s adviser, Sharif said.

India had said that Pakistan’s national security adviser, Sartaj Aziz couldn’t meet with Kashmiri separatists and that the talks should be limited to discussions of terrorism, while Pakistan wanted a broader agenda.

Since these two attempts to revive dialogue had broken down, India has “increased cease-fire violations across” the frontier with Pakistan—and New Delhi is engaged in “a major arms buildup regrettably with the active assistance of several powers,” Sharif said.

The United States is one of India’s largest suppliers of conventional weapons.

Pakistani 'Counter-Measures'

India also “has adopted dangerous military doctrines,” Sharif said. “This will compel Pakistan to take several countermeasures to preserve credible deterrence,” he added.

Days before Sharif arrived in Washington, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Aizaz Choudhary, said his country had developed low-yield tactical nuclear weapons in response to India’s military plans that call for a swift conventional strike on Pakistan in a future conflict.

Despite the volatile security situation in the region, Sharif said Pakistan’s economy has brightened and levels of violence have fallen since he took office.

Pakistan made a “strategic choice to eliminate all terrorists groups” within the country, Sharif said, noting its military offensive in the region of North Waziristan, a longtime Taliban stronghold on the Afghan border.  That sweep, which began in June 2014, is the largest of its kind in the world, he said.

The operation has destroyed terrorist sanctuaries, command and control networks, and infrastructure, and thousands of terrorist suspects have been captured, Sharif said. “The rest are on the run as the operation goes into its final phase and the few remaining hideouts will be cleared,” he said.

While the North Waziristan offensive “pushed many terrorists out of Pakistan, unfortunately many of those terrorists moved into Afghanistan and that is one of the reasons for the greater violence in Afghanistan, particularly in the north,” Hadley said.

On the economic front, Sharif said Pakistan’s gross domestic product is expected to grow by 5 percent this year, up from a rate of 3.3 percent growth before he took office. Sharif said his government had reduced the state’s budget deficit and controlled inflation by cutting wasteful expenditures. 

October 23, 2015