ENSURING that upcoming parliamentary election passes off smoothly and without major occurrences of violence is the top priority for the Afghan government and its allies—foreign occupation forces. Last month Taliban representatives met an Afghan government delegation in Saudi Arabia to discuss security ahead of elections and a limited prisoner release. “They requested us to help them conduct peaceful elections,” said a Taliban official. “The Afghan delegation has agreed with us on the release of prisoners,” he said. Some prisoners facing minor charges have already been released. “Some of our senior people were not in the favour of holding talks with the Afghan government as until now we were calling them puppets and refused to meet them,” said a Qatar based Taliban leader. Reportedly, meeting in Saudi Arabia came after plans for another meeting with American officials broke down over US demand for a 90 days’ ceasefire. Ceasefire request was something Taliban leadership could not agree to.
Earlier this year, the US had given up its refusal to talk to Taliban directly; thereafter, delegations met in Doha, in July. “Our agreement for holding the meeting was only to discuss prisoner exchange and the removal of our people from the UN black list so they can travel,” said a Taliban representative. Taliban regard the incumbent Afghan government as an illegitimate regime imposed by foreign powers, they vehemently insisted on negotiating only with the United States; however, there have been regular unofficial contacts between Talban and the Afghan government. It is only a matter of time that two way talks between Taliban and Afghan government would be acknowledged by all sides. Electoral enthusiasm has been subdued by fears of attacks on polling stations and campaign rallies. Upward spiral of political violence continues in Afghanistan; latest manifestation was deadly attack on an election rally in Nangarhar, which resulted in loss of lives and injuries to scores of people. Reportedly, Taliban are also fighting Daesh militants who have managed to establish a foothold in Afghanistan and have recruited some of Taliban members as well. Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai has accused the US of propping up Daesh and using it as a “tool” for its own agenda in Afghanistan. Practically, Taliban are knocking at the door of Kabul; hence Americans are in a panic to have a meaningful multi-pronged engagement with Taliban. Under these circumstances, Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi has had a series of engagements in the US. During all his meeting he discussed prospects of peace in Afghanistan. During his meeting with US National Security Advisor John Bolton, both discussed the efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Afghan situation. Sharing Pakistan’s perspective, Foreign Minister reiterated Pakistan’s long held position that there was no military solution to the situation in Afghanistan. He stated that Pakistan would continue to support the efforts for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
Foreign minister also met Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo at the State Department. He stressed that a forward moving, broad-based and structured framework for dialogue would best serve the two countries’ shared interests. Foreign Minister noted that Pakistan and the United States shared a common desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region at large. He reiterated Pakistan’s support for a political settlement in Afghanistan, noting that the use of force had failed to deliver results. Secretary Pompeo appreciated Pakistan’s support for political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Both sides agreed that the time was ripe for the Afghan Taliban to avail the opportunity for a political settlement by seizing the opportunity for dialogue.
Occupation forces have exhausted almost all military strategies in combating Afghan Taliban. At political level, Americans are suffering from a phobia of failure. Taliban are on the march and are getting stronger, the government is on the retreat, each day losing territory. International and regional media monitoring the Afghan situation is of the view that “Taliban do look a lot like they are winning” and that this is “the war America can’t win.” In addition to uncontested dominance over rural Afghanistan, Taliban have demonstrated a surprising ability to survive and conduct high-profile attacks in urban centre. Local Taliban commanders fund their networks by taxing the trade, including farmers. Senior Taliban leaders hope that they will, one day, be able to re-take Kabul and overthrow the Afghan government. Taliban have quite a different organization today than it was in the 1990s. Under Haibatullah Akhunzada, Taliban have covered substantial mileage towards winning Afghan hearts and minds by funding some development projects and promising to reform the education system. Its leaders have created an organizational structure in which top echelons provide strategic guidance and oversight, while military and political officials in the field make operational and tactical decisions.
New York Times has reported on October 05 that notorious Black Water fame mercenary executive Erik D Prince, has become overly active to have his plan approved about outsourcing of Afghan war to his organization. He envisages using a cadre of contractors, including a private air force. He envisages 6,000 private contractors providing “skeletal structure support” and training for Afghan forces alongside small teams of Special Forces veterans embedded with Afghan battalions and about 2,500 American Special Operations forces to remain in Afghanistan for three years. Human Rights Watch warned against US efforts to outsource the war arguing that the move could endanger civilian lives. US Defence Secretary James Mattis had rejected the plan as not a “wise idea” in August, but Trump’s unhappiness about the US performance in Afghan war is raising fears that he might finally agree with the plan or abruptly order a complete US withdrawal.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.