What does Pakistan want from Afghanistan in Exchange for the Taliban ceasefire?

Afghan and Pakistani officials signed an agreement on November 19, 2020 to establish a common vision for peace and stability in the two countries and the region. According to part of the agreement, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan were to work together to identify and take joint action against the enemies of peace in these two countries. Therefore, the joint operations of the intelligence agencies of the two countries had to be carried out by December 15 of the same year against the opponents of peace and the perpetrators that weaken this process. The not-so-good relations between the two countries now show that the obligations of the two sides in this agreement have not been fulfilled. Or at least the Afghan government is not happy with what Pakistan has done so far.

Afghan political and military officials have repeatedly criticized Pakistan over the deadlock over intra-Afghan talks and escalating violence in the country. In his recent speeches and articles, Ashraf Ghani has emphasized that now is the time for Pakistan to choose. He said Pakistan had to choose between war and peace. Afghan military officials have also recently blamed Pakistan for escalating violence in Afghanistan. According to them, the Pakistani army has cooperated with the Taliban in the current war in Afghanistan, including in Helmand.

It seems that the visit of Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Pakistan Army, to Afghanistan was carried out for two specific purposes. Bajwa’s first goal is to call on the Afghan government to release Pakistani prisoners in exchange for a three-day Taliban ceasefire. One of these prisoners is Aslam Farooqi, who led the Khorasan branch of ISIS. A Pakistani national, he was arrested by the Afghan National Security Forces last year on April 2 last year.

Pakistan has previously demanded the extradition of Aslam Farooqi from the Afghan government. Pakistan has said he is accused of anti-Pakistani activities. The Afghan government refused to extradite Farooqi due to the lack of a prisoner exchange agreement between the two countries. Afghanistan has said it will prosecute Farooqi under its domestic law.

The Afghan National Directorate of Security (ANDS) recently announced that it has opened talks with at least 14 countries on determining the fate of ISIS prisoners in the country. Ahmad Zia Saraj, director general of NDS, said there were 408 foreign ISIS prisoners in Afghanistan, 60% of whom were Pakistani nationals. The other prisoners are from thirteen other countries. He had said that he had started talks with the intelligence agencies of these countries to decide on the fate of these prisoners. Afghanistan’s readiness to discuss the fate of foreign ISIS prisoners gives Pakistan an opportunity to clarify the fate of Aslam Farooqi and his fellow prisoners in Afghanistan.

On November 18 last year, a day before Imran Khan’s visit to Kabul, Ashraf Ghani issued a decree releasing some Pakistani prisoners. However, no news of its implementation has been published. Ghani had said in his decree that this was done with the aim of “goodwill” and “strengthening friendly relations” between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistani officials have previously called on the Afghan government to implement Ghani’s decree to release its citizens.

The visit of the Pakistani Joint Chiefs of Staff to Afghanistan coincided with the announcement of a three-day ceasefire by the Taliban during Eid. There is no doubt that Qamar Javed Bajwa traveled to Ghani and Abdullah on such a day and told them to accept the Taliban group’s announcement of a three-day ceasefire during Eid al-Fitr as a “goodwill” action by Pakistan. In return, he called for the implementation of Ghani’s order to release Pakistani prisoners and extradite Aslam Farooqi and other Pakistani ISIS members. In particular, the NDS has previously opened talks to decide the fate of these prisoners.

The second purpose of Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit was to discuss the relations between the two countries after the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan, and the fate of war and peace in this country. Pakistanis are worried that the situation in Afghanistan could spiral out of control and that instability in the country could contaminate Pakistan. This part of his itinerary, which has also become public, is part of Pakistan’s policy on the “extended troika” mechanism. Under this mechanism, Pakistan opposes the full return of the Taliban to power and the revival of the “Islamic Emirate” claimed by the group.

However, Pakistan supports peace talks in Afghanistan with the aim of sharing power equally between the government and the Taliban. This is Pakistan’s most outspoken stance on peace in Afghanistan, announced last month by Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureshi in an interview with a German media outlet. Pakistan also agrees with the establishment of an interim government in Afghanistan. The policy was announced by Imran Khan a few years ago and met with a negative reaction from the Afghan government.

The Taliban claim to have no ties to Pakistan and are acting independently in their decisions. However, each time the Taliban send a delegation to Pakistan on the eve of their political decision-making, they announce their positions after consulting with Pakistani officials. For example, the second round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban came to a standstill following the group’s visit to Pakistan. Mullah Hebatullah’s Eid message and the group’s decision to ceasefire during Eid al-Fitr were also announced following the group’s visit to Pakistan. These are signs of Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban but the Taliban do not acknowledge this influence. That is why Kabul’s peace with Islamabad is considered a precondition for the success of the Afghan government’s peace talks with the Taliban.