WELCOME REMARKS – Public Talk on “How Pakistan and the US can provide plan B for Afghanistan”


Remarks for November 12, 2019 event

Talk by Prof Marvin Weinbaum

How Pakistan and the US can provide plan B for Afghanistan

Prof. Weinbaum, ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Prof Weinbaum to the Institute. He is a reputed name in the academic and think tank circles, especially for his insights on South and West Asia.

It is my personal privilege of knowing Mr Weinbaum for some years now. The ME Institute in DC was in fact the first host of my talks, the second day after my arrival in DC as the Ambassador of Pakistan to the US, in March 2017.

Prof Weinbaum has offered to speak to us on a topic that has kept the policy makers engaged for nearly four decades.

Despite nearly two decades of rampant violence in Afghanistan, the last few months witnessed signs of hope for a political settlement to end the Afghan war. After nine rounds of direct talks between the US and the Taliban via the Doha talks, it appeared that the complex Afghan jigsaw might finally come together. However, this optimism came to an abrupt end when President Trump declared that the talks with the Taliban were effectively ‘dead’.., “as killing a US soldier to get the upper hand in negotiations was going too far.”[i] 

President Trump’s rationale for cancelling the talks remains unclear considering the fact that the Taliban’s violence and insurgency was not novel. Moreover, the ‘agreement in principle’ was reached during the absence of a ceasefire. Hence once again, the Afghan peace process finds itself in a limbo adding to the miseries of the Afghan people.

So, where do we go from here? Everyone is convinced that we need a negotiated peace settlement. Everyone is also aware that a peace settlement requires an agreement on all relevant pieces of the puzzle: withdrawal of foreign troops, ceasefire, future political set up, and a regional consensus to ensure that Afghan soil is not used by outsiders for their own strategic objectives.

What if this route does not make progress. Is there a plan B? If so, how would that look like? Can the US and Pakistan facilitate a peace settlement, whether through plan A or plan B? These are the questions that we hope to talk about in this public talk today.

Islamabad believes that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the best interest of Pakistan and the region. Islamabad further believes that a critical first step towards the peace settlement is a credible intra-Afghan dialogue amongst all political and warring factions in Afghanistan, especially between the two principal stakeholders, namely the Afghan government and Taliban. 

Of late, there have been several initiatives to foster intra-Afghan dialogue. In June, 2019, Pakistan hosted an intra-Afghan dialogue in Murree, where many influential Afghan leaders took part (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Haneef Atmar, Atta Mohammad Noor, Abdul Latif Pedram, Mohammad Mohaqeq, Ustad Atta Mohammad Noor, Mohammad Karim Khalili and members from the Afghan high peace council).[ii]

More recently, in early October 2019, Islamabad hosted a Taliban delegation headed by Mullah Baradar and also facilitated the Taliban’s meeting with the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad with the hope that talks could be resumed.

The US, China, Pakistan, and Russia came together in the recently held Moscow talks where all four sides agreed that ‘negotiations’ are the only road to peace in Afghanistan, including an early resumption of direct U.S. talks with the Taliban.’[iii]

China has also offered to host an intra-Afghan dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Beijing. While no specific date has been announced, it is Pakistan’s sincere hope that both parties avail of that opportunity to engage in peace talks.

Pakistan and the US have a crucial role to play in the future of Afghanistan. Pakistan had welcomed the decision of direct talks between the US and the Taliban. We were satisfied when the direct talks started, and we were disappointed when the talks having made substantial progress got stalled. We are however convinced of the continuing imperative of urgent resumption of the peace talks.

The question is whether the two principal stakeholders, namely the Afghan government and the Taliban, engage in a serious meaningful dialogue towards a peace settlement. The recently held elections, the results of which are not yet known, have added to the atmosphere of uncertainty in Kabul.

Although it remains to be seen whether both parties will engage in talks in Beijing, however, if both parties do engage, it is imperative that they deliberate on all aspects of the peace settlement, i.e. how to ensure a credible and sustained ceasefire, a responsible and measured withdrawal of foreign forces, a participatory future political set up, and major and regional powers acting as guarantors of the peace.

This is a tall order. But that’s the only way forward to deal with the uncertainty that surrounds Afghanistan’s future and that of the region.

[i] https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1170469618177236992, September 7, 2019

[ii]“Afghan Leaders Begin Two-day Peace Talks in Pakistan,” Al Jazeera, June 22, 2019, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/afghan-leaders-day-peace-talks-pakistan-190622144055061.html

[iii] Kathy Gannon, “US meets China, Russia and Pakistan to talk peace in Afghanistan,” Associated Press,

October 27, 2019, https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/2019/10/27/us-meets-china-russia-and-pakistan-to-talk-peace-in-afghanistan/