Military escalation in Afghanistan will erode peace prospects: Maleeha

NEW YORK: Pakistan has told the United Nations (UN) that the opportunity for peace in Afghanistan opened up by President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of unconditional talks to the Taliban should not be undermined by the escalation of military force.

Speaking in the UN Security Council debate on Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, warned that as the task ahead was complex and delicate, more kinetic actions or trying to “shape the battlefield’ would evoke an escalation of attacks by the insurgents and erode rather than advance the prospect of initiating the envisaged political process.
For over a decade now, she said, Pakistan has advocated the restoration of peace in Afghanistan through a negotiated settlement between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban.
“The international community has also endorsed the goal of a negotiated settlement, promoted through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process, as the best, and indeed only, way to realise durable peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan”, she added.
While reiterating Pakistan’s call on the Taliban to renounce violence and agree to join the peace talks, Ambassador Lodhi told the 15-member council that both Afghan parties — the government and the Taliban — should seize the opportunity for peace by entering into dialogue aimed at ending the prolonged conflict to usher in durable peace in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani envoy said, “After 17 years, both the Afghan government and its coalition allies, as well as the Taliban, should have learnt that neither can impose a military victory on the other,” she remarked.
Commenting on the report of the UN Secretary General, Ambassador Lodhi said that it paints a bleak picture of the situation in Afghanistan especially of the security environment, which in 2017 witnessed a sixty-seven percent spike in air strikes and increase in terrorist attacks and the highest number of civilian casualties “ever recorded” in Afghanistan.
Moreover, she said, the continuing presence of large numbers of terrorist groups and foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan pose a threat to the long-term stability of Afghanistan, its neighbours including Pakistan, and the entire region.
Voicing concern about the rapid growth of Daesh in Afghanistan, Ambassador Lodhi emphasised the need to eliminate the terrorist group and its affiliates on a priority basis in the endeavour to achieve durable peace in the region.
The Pakistani envoy quoted a recent report that noted that the Afghan Government controls only 18 per cent of the country’s districts, and has influence in an additional 38 per cent. The rest is ungoverned, she said and argued that “It is in these ungoverned and contested spaces in Afghanistan’s North and the East that Daesh and its affiliates are installing themselves and threatening Afghanistan and its neighbours”.
Emphasising the need for effective border control to contain regional terrorism, Ambassador Lodhi said that Pakistan requires close cooperation from the Afghan Government and coalition forces to manage the long border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan, she said, has nearly a thousand border posts but on the other side there are only 220. “In one stretch of 648 km, there is not a single Afghan border post”, she added.
Ambassador Lodhi told the council that the threat of terrorism in Pakistan today emanated principally from outside its boundaries.
She also recalled what Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa had stated in his remarks to the recent Munich Security Conference: “Of the 131 terrorist attacks on our territory, 123 were conceived, planned and executed from Afghanistan”. This, she said, was happening despite the presence of the most powerful military alliance in Afghanistan.
“We want to see the elimination of the sanctuaries from which these terrorists operate against Pakistan”, she stressed.
In response to remarks made earlier by the Afghan Ambassador in the council, she said all parties should refrain from campaigns of vilification and coercion, adding that Pakistan’s cooperation cannot be garnered by pressure and intimidation.