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MUTUAL CONSENSUS A MUST FOR AFGHAN PEACE: COAS

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Pakistan on Wednesday called for a “mutual consensus” based decision among all stakeholders to the Afghan endgame after US President Joe Biden decided to extend the troop withdrawal deadline from May 1 to September 11.

Just ahead of the formal announcement of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the US president, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa by telephone and discussed the Biden administration’s strategy.

Gen Qamar, as per the official readout, told the US Secretary of State that Pakistan will always support an “Afghan led-Afghan-owned” peace process based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders.

The statement means that Pakistan wants all stakeholders, including the Afghan Taliban, on board regarding the troop withdrawal plan. The Taliban have said that they wanted the withdrawal of all foreign forces from their Afghan homeland on the date specified in the Doha Accord.

“If the agreement is adhered to, a pathway to addressing the remaining issues will also be found,” said the Taliban spokesperson.

“If the agreement is breached and foreign forces fail to exit our country on the specified date, problems will certainly be compounded and those who failed to comply with the agreement will be held liable,” the spokesperson warned.

The reaction from Taliban suggests that the group might resume targeting the US forces. Diplomatic sources said that the Biden administration was seeking Pakistan’s help to convince the Taliban to agree to a few months of extension in the troop withdrawal.

Pakistan, which considers the Doha deal as a rare historic opportunity to seek a political solution to the Afghan war, is in favour of orderly and responsible withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

It is believed that Pakistan will not mind a few months of extension in troop withdrawal, hoping this may give enough time to the parties involved in the peace process to reach a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.

But the announcement of Biden may further complicate the process, as an upcoming conference in Turkey has been postponed after Taliban refused to take part in it.

Following the Biden administration’s announcement, a coalition of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)-led troops in Afghanistan will leave the country in coordination with a planned US withdrawal by September 11, Washington’s top diplomat said on Wednesday, ahead of a formal announcement of the end of two decades of fighting.

Around 7,000 non-US forces mainly from Nato countries, and also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumber the 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan. However, they still rely on the US air support, planning and leadership for their training mission.

Secretary of State Blinken said in Brussels that it was time for NATO allies to make good on the mantra that the allies went into Afghanistan together and would leave together.

“I am here to work closely with our allies, with the (NATO) secretary general, on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together,” Blinken said in a televised statement at Nato headquarters.

Meanwhile, during the telephone call Secretary Blinken discussed the “matters of mutual interest, regional security situation, including the latest developments in Afghan peace process and bilateral cooperation in various fields, were discussed” with the army chief.

The Secretary of State also acknowledged Pakistan’s continuous efforts for peace and stability in the region and pledged to further enhance bilateral relations.