Senior British commander in discreet effort to revive Afghan peace process: report
A senior British military commander has used their personal ties with Afghan and Pakistan leaders in a quiet attempt to avert the breakout of a full-scale civil war in Afghanistan and revive a faltering internal peace process in Qatar.
General Nick Carter, the Chief of the UK's Defence Staff, has been involved in what a top Afghan official has described as "discreet" work for over a year, The Observer has reported.
It has seen him accompanying a high-ranking Pakistani general in May for a trip from Islamabad to Kabul to meet with the Afghan president, as well arranging a meeting between Pakistan and Afghan officials in Bahrain.
The efforts of General Carter, a close friend of President Ashraf Ghani, are aimed at pressuring Pakistan to use its leverage with the Taliban to force the group to return to the negotiating table.
As the Taliban have launched a series of lightning offensives across the country and are now said to control half of Afghanistan's roughly 400 districts, relations between Kabul and Islamabad remain fraught over the latter's alleged support for the militant group.
Afghan government officials have long accused elements of the Pakistani military of providing arms and other forms of support to the Taliban, with Pakistan's powerful spy agency singled out for having very close ties to the group.
Last week, fighters were filmed receiving treatment in Pakistani government hospitals after clashes with Afghan government forces near a recently seized border crossing. The Taliban have long operated from the border area of Pakistan and most of their families are based in Pakistan.
Tensions rose markedly over the weekend, when the daughter of Kabul’s envoy to Islamabad was kidnapped in the Pakistani capital and brutally beaten by unknown assailants, prompting Kabul to summon its Pakistan envoy to lodge a protest over the attack.
General Carter, for his part, cultivated a friendship with President Ghani during the time the commander headed the NATO mission in Afghanistan, with the two reportedly speaking on a weekly basis. But his efforts to deploy Pakistan as a peace broker in Afghanistan have been met with scepticism.
"This back channel is meant to see if Pakistan can be convinced to use their influence," an unnamed senior official told The Observer, adding: "Then all of a sudden they say they don’t actually have any [influence]…There hasn’t been any practical results."
Even as Pakistan have pushed the Taliban back to the negotiating table, the group's military victories in Afghanistan have made them contemptuous of the talks, according to Afghan sources.
"They told our [Afghan government] negotiators these aren’t peace talks any more, they are surrender talks," sources told The Observer.
Still, on Sunday, the Taliban’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhunzada said he "strenuously" favoured a political settlement to the conflict, during a new round of talks in Doha.
"In spite of the military gains and advances, the Islamic Emirate strenuously favours a political settlement in the country," Akhundzada said.