Islamabad, Pakistan – The political players in Afghanistan should set aside their “personal interests” in moving the country’s peace process forward, Pakistan‘s foreign minister has said, before warning the United States of “spoilers” that could derail a landmark agreement signed a day earlier to bring peace to the country.
Speaking to the press in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Sunday, a day after attending the signing ceremony of an agreement that is aimed at ending the US’s 18-year war in neighbouring Afghanistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said it was important for intra-Afghan talks to begin swiftly.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
“People want peace. Now it is time to see what the [Afghan] leadership does,” he said. “Do they prioritise Afghanistan’s interests, or do they give their own personal benefits more importance? This is a very big decision.”
The US-Taliban agreement said talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban must begin by March 10.
The agreement signed on Saturday in the Qatari capital, Doha, creates a framework for the US and NATO to withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan over 14 months, pending the meeting of certain criteria.
One of those conditions – the release of more than 5,000 Afghan Taliban prisoners in government custody – has already created a potential obstacle to peace, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ruling out the move.
‘Keep a close eye’
Qureshi said he told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also present at the signing of the agreement in Doha, that the US must be wary of “spoilers” who could derail the process.
“We cannot be in denial about this. There were spoilers, there are spoilers,” said Qureshi without elaborating on the nature of the alleged “spoilers”.
“In Afghanistan and outside. So you will all have to keep a close eye on those spoilers.”
Pakistan has facilitated the direct talks between the United States and Afghan Taliban since they began in 2018, after long having been accused by the US and the Afghan government of providing safe havens to leaders of the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan denies the charge, although members of the Taliban have sought shelter on its territory.
In 2016, the US killed the then-leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in a drone strike in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan.
“There is a sense in Pakistan that the US-Taliban deal has vindicated Pakistan’s long-held stance, since the Bonn conference [in 2001], that there is no military solution to the conflict and that the Taliban are a political reality in Afghanistan,” said Hassan Akbar, an Islamabad-based security and foreign policy analyst.
Akbar said the “spoilers” the foreign minister referred to could be “non-state actors like the [so-called] Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS), al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, who do not want to see the conflict ending” as well “actors within Afghanistan who benefit from the war economy”.
“Afghanistan, and what happens there, has a direct impact on Pakistan’s security,” said Akbar.
“Afghanistan and Pakistan share a long history of bilateral relations, not just because of ethnic ties and a shared history, but also because of the externalities of conflict in Afghanistan impacting Pakistan.”
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.