Frank Islam (Washington): Pakistan, under the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, appears to be re-positioning itself to be a regional peacemaker. This is a positive step in a region that has been conflict torn for decades and where the divisive issues are compound and complex.
This re-positioning began early in Prime Minister Khan’s tenure when he offered to provide mediation assistance to end the Yemen war. Early on, he also pledged to hold peace talks with arch-rival India and extended an olive branch to it through the opening of the border for Sikh pilgrims. Most recently, the Khan administration has arranged for negotiations between the United States and the Taliban to try to terminate their conflict in Afghanistan. Each of these initiatives provides evidence of Pakistan’s readiness to be a leader pushing for peace in the region.
After a visit to Saudi Arabia in September, Mr. Khan stated that he would try to get Iran and Saudi Arabia to work together to resolve the conflict in Yemen. In October, he announced that Pakistan is “acting as a conciliator” between Iran and Saudi Arabia to attempt to end that conflict.
Later the Pakistani government contacted Iran and Yemen diplomats to discuss the peace initiative. In a meeting with the Ambassador of Yemen, Khan assured him that Pakistan is striving for an early resolution of this matter, emphasized that all parties must engage in dialogue, and called for opening channels of humanitarian assistance for the people suffering from famine in Yemen.
Pakistan’s role in the Yemen peace process has been that of a facilitator or an interlocutor. Its role in terms of working to mend its own relations with India has been much more direct and concrete.
These interim results on Afghanistan, the evolution of a new relationship with India, and the momentum on Yemen are all indicators of the progress made by Pakistan in its emerging role as a regional peacekeeper
Since assuming power in August, Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly stressed the need for better ties with India. His government’s move to open the Kartarpur border crossing to allow Indian Sikhs to visit one of their holiest site on Pakistani soil can be seen as a serious attempt to normalize relationships between India and Pakistan. Khan himself attended the inauguration ceremony held for the new road linking the Indian town of Dera Baba Nanak to the Gurdwara Darbar Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan.
Known as the ‘Kartarpur Corridor’, the road will allow for visa-free travel for Sikh pilgrims to the gurdwara. The move has great religious significance for about 21 million Sikhs living in India and it could pave the way for better cooperation between Islamabad and New Delhi.
Likewise, Pakistan’s efforts to try to bring about a peaceful resolution to the war in Afghanistan could improve its relations with the United States. Relations that have been strained considerably by the Afghanistan war.
Pakistan has been working on improving them since Khan came into office. Things did not look promising during mid November, after President Trump declared that Pakistan was not “doing a damn thing” to help the US and the Prime Minister responded with a retaliatory tweet.
However, things changed in December when Pakistan helped broker peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in the United Arab Emirates. The Taliban and the United States concluded those rounds of direct talks on December 18.
The US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who had already held one round of talks with the Taliban delegation in November of this year, called this second round “productive.” After the meeting, the UAE government announced that another round of talks would be held in Abu Dhabi “to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process.”
These interim results on Afghanistan, the evolution of a new relationship with India, and the momentum on Yemen are all indicators of the progress made by Pakistan in its emerging role as a regional peacekeeper. As the old saying goes though “the race goes not to the swift, but to those who persevere.”
Pakistan has demonstrated that it is in the peacekeeping race. It now needs to show thstat it has the power to see things through to a successful conclusion. This will not be easy because the differences between those involved are substantial and long-standing.
As US President John F Kennedy noted, however, “World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor – it requires only that they live together with mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement.” Pakistan is taking the lead in encouraging its neighbors to move beyond enmity, war and hostilities to search for a ‘just and peaceful settlement’.
If these efforts for peace are successful, it will benefit the countries and the affected people, the region, and bring social and economic benefits to Pakistan as well. This is a noble goal and one worth pursuing for all concerned. Thus, as this New Year begins, I say to Pakistan, “Well begun! Carry on!”
Frank F. Islam is an Entrepreneur, Civic Leader, and Thought Leader based in Washington DC.