In the backdrop of sudden pulling the plug on US Taliban talks by President Trump, which has brought the things to square one at least for now, Pakistan has rightly urged the stakeholder to re-engage maintaining that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan looked for optimized engagement following earliest resumption of talks. It also reminded them that Pakistan has been facilitating the peace and reconciliation process in good faith and as a shared responsibility encouraging all sides to remain with sincerity of purpose.

The sense of concern shown by Pakistan over the disruption of the peace process is irreproachable in view of the fact that it has the potential to push Afghanistan into an un-ending political crisis and perennial factional conflict with debilitating fall out for the neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan. Whether President Trump took this step due to the reason enunciated in his tweet or in the backdrop of reports of refusal by secretary of state to sign the agreement and the dissatisfaction shown by President Ghani on the contents of the deal, the development does not augur well for peace in Afghanistan and the region.

The development has given a new lease of political life to President Ghani by reviving the prospects of Presidential elections in Afghanistan on the scheduled date of 28th September, which looked quite uncertain due to the fact that the sealing of deal between the US and Taliban could have pushed the elections back and raised the likelihood of the setting up of a transitional government to supervise and facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue on the future political set up in Afghanistan. President Ghani is seeking second five year term. There are sixteen candidates in the Presidential race but the real contest seems between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah with the former predicted to have an edge over the latter.

However conducting the elections in Afghanistan will not be a smooth sailing. There are severe security concerns and the most of the candidates including President Ghani are finding it difficult to campaign for their elections. The Taliban have already vowed to disrupt the elections. In the permeating situation there is a strong likelihood of increase in violence. The voters are scared of the prospects of attacks on polling stations by the Taliban and the election authorities in Afghanistan are also worried about the situation. Fighting is already raging in nearly twelve of country’s 34 provinces and there are fears that out of seven thousand polling stations in the country two thousand will remain in-operational due to the security threat. The recent surge in attacks by Taliban is a premonition for the things to come while the talks remain suspended and ambience of uncertainty hovers over the horizon.

Even if the Afghan authorities manage to conduct the elections, there is no guarantee that the results will be accepted by the losing candidates. History suggests that elections in Afghanistan have led to severe disputes. The stalemate over the results of 2014 elections brought the country to the brink of a break-up before the then US secretary of state John Kerry played a role in formulating a power-sharing arrangement that made Ghani President and Abdullah Abdullah was accommodated as a chief executive of the country.

In the ensuing elections they are again pitted against each other and the portents suggest that the outcome will not be different from the one in 2014 in terms of their credibility and acceptability in view of the fact that Afghanistan is a highly polarized polity. Abdullah Abdullah has as his allies the people who have been wronged by Ashraf Ghani including General Dostum who will not easily let it go.

The hint by President Trump that he might go ahead with withdrawal of US forces even without a deal is indeed an ominous proposition in case it is really carried out. Doing so without a deal between Taliban and US on drawdown of US troops and the firming up of future political set-up in Afghanistan through intra-Afghan dialogue will surely plunge the country into an unending instability with devastating impact on Afghanistan itself and the countries of the region. That indeed is dreadful prospect. It will also undoubtedly harm strategic interests of US in the region as it would allow the terrorists to re-group and carry on with their nefarious designs to undermine peace and security in the region and beyond.

Therefore, the US and the Taliban will have to make sure that the historic opportunity that has been created through dialogue between them (facilitated by Pakistan) and which is likely to pave the way for Afghanistan’s return to normalcy is not wasted. The Taliban must show more flexibility as they owe it to the Afghan people to end the four-decade old conflict which has done irretrievable harm to Afghanistan in terms of lost Afghan lives and destruction of infrastructure. The US also must realize that a negotiated settlement was the only way for its honourable exit from Afghanistan and ensuring peace in Afghanistan, pivotal to imparting terminable blow to the phenomenon of terrorism. There is much at stake for both sides not to be sacrificed at the altar of egoistic and impulsive propensities. Both sides have to exhibit vision and pragmatism.

The countries of the region, including Pakistan which have strived hard to promote Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation in Afghanistan through bilateral and multilateral forums still have an abiding commitment to the process and even now will be more than willing to play their role in facilitating re-engagement between the US and Taliban as emphasized in the statement issued by the Foreign Office, provided both sides express their willingness and revisit their taken positions.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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There are severe security concerns and the most of the candidates including President Ghani are finding it difficult to campaign for their elections.