Ahmadullah Archiwal 3/3/2018
Amid the efforts of bringing stability and accelerating peace process by the Afghan government, Afghanistan National Security Adviser paid a three days official visit to Saudi Arabia on the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Muhammad Ben Sulman, on February 21, 2018.
Atmar´s visit bears importance from many angles.Saudi´s religious status puts the Kingdome in a position to challenge the religious legitimacy of the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan. Being the Guardian of the two holy places, Makka and Madina, Saudi Arabi has the religious authority and enjoys wide respect among the Islamic World.
Saudi supported the emergence of the Taliban as a strategy and ideological tool in the mid-1990s. Saudi have had cordial relations with the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban in 1996-2001. Besides UAE and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia was one of the nations which were having diplomatic relations with the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban.
Also, Saudi has been enjoying friendly relations with Pakistan. Saudi supported Pakistan financially and diplomatically at various junctures. Lately, there are some minor ups and downs in the Saudi Pakistan relations; overall both the countries enjoy good relations.
Pakistan´s recent announcement of sending 1000 military personnel to Saudi Arabi to help Saudi enhance its security emblems the proximity of the two countries. A large number of Pakistani troops have been serving in Saudi Arabi to train Saudi military for many years.
Saudi remained relatively passive and didn’t venture to involve itself in the affairs of Afghanistan on state level during president Karzai´s time in office. It was only once that Saudi tried to bring Taliban and the Afghan government to negotiating table in 2008, there were reports of face to face encounters between the Taliban and Afghan government at that time. However, the intervention proved not very fruitful.
Unlike the previous Afghan government, the current Afghan government seems to be giving greater weight to the Afghan Saudi relations. President Ghani chose Saudi to pay his first state trip to one month after swearing in as the president of Afghanistan. The president visited Saudi again after King Salman was ascended to power. President Ghani´s visits were followed by Dr.Abdullah´s trip to Saudi Arabia, which shows a consensus in the National Unity Government to scale up Saudi´s involvement in the peace process in Afghanistan and garner its support in the fight against terrorism. Moreover, Atmar was officially invited by the Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, which shows the importance Afghanistan is gaining in the Saudi´s diplomatic quarters.
Peace and reconciliation were one of the topics that dominated earlier discussions among the Saudi and Afghan officials; it continued to stay the main topic of discussion between the Afghanistan National Security Advisor and the Saudi officials. Efforts aimed at fighting against terrorism were also discussed in the meetings of Atmar with Saudi officials. The Afghanistan National Security Advisor focused on enhancing cordial relations and ways to strengthen them and the efforts of the two countries in the fight against terrorism.
How the regional diplomatic and political equations have changed in the region; new alliances are taking shape and Taliban who were once considered Saudi´s proxies against Iran, have gone closer to Iran, Saudi still has the leverage to influence Pakistan and the Taliban. Because of its economic potential and religious legitimacy and its close ties with Pakistan and the Taliban, Saudi has the leverage to greatly influence the calculations in the region and push for reconciliation. More importantly, Saudi enjoys good relations with the Mujahideen groups, who compose a huge part of the current government and who has a major share in the Peace Council and whose support to the peace process is important. Saudi can easily convince the Mujahedeen to put their support behind the peace efforts made by the Kabul government.
There is a growing realization in the region that the on-going insurgency in Afghanistan poses a threat to the stability of the region. Saudi and other Gulf countries have a stake in the stability in Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism. This common goal brings the two countries close to each other.
Besides Saudi has the potential to play a vital role in future if the regional approach is adopted for bringing stability in Afghanistan. The US also supports calls for a regional approach for bringing stability in Afghanistan.