Peace process at crossroads

Maryam Nazir

IN a compromised bid to unite the ranks after months of internal rifts, Taliban leadership has now appointed Mullah Omar’s Brother Mullah Manan and son Mullah Yaqoob to senior leadership posts. The spokesperson for the insurgent group further detailed that the leadership has appointed Manan as head of Preaching and Guidance Commission, and Yaqoob as military commander responsible for 15 provinces in Afghanistan. These appointments have brought back the influential sceptics back into the fold while Taliban leadership tries to consolidate its power.
News of Mullah Omar death badly halted the process of peace talks. Occurrence of peace became vulnerable as Taliban leadership escalated their winter offence. Then, it was the only option Taliban leadership had to keep the popular support together. However, offensive’s transition from winter to spring is still a big question. Strategically, security in South Asia is coupled with peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan as friendly-brother neighbour likes to extend efforts in bringing peace in Afghanistan. That is why it is believed that peace in Afghanistan is imperative to peace in Pakistan. Pakistan in recent past has expedited all mechanisms to ensure occurrence of peace talks.
After the failure of peace process of last year, a new mechanism was installed through Quadrilateral Coordination Group involving stakeholders such as United States and China other than Pakistan and Afghanistan. US has more than a decade long presence in Afghanistan while China shares regional interests with Afghanistan. This quadrilateral process was to sort out matters in order to bring Taliban leadership on table for negotiations with other stakeholders. In similar context, Pakistan’s civil-military leadership had been interacting with Afghan counterparts to discuss the framework required for meaningful peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, in order to keep the essence of peace process intact has relied on continuous interactions and information sharing, which is so far a successful one. These interactions kept channels open, clearing misunderstanding, minimizing space for suspicions to grow. Pakistan has already called the reconciliation process to be Afghan owned. On numerous occasions, issues such as border management and escape ways for terrorists have been discussed, as to curtail future consequences. Besides, proposal of Quadrilateral Coordination Group added credibility to Pakistan’s efforts for harnessing peace in Afghanistan.
The peace process which was ceased last year in summers; saw resumption in November 2015, when we started hearing echoes of peace process in Afghanistan at high level meetings. Since then, high ups of both sides have been in contact, laying out plans of ambitions. Pakistan has been reaching out all heights in order to ensure occurrence of peace. In February, we see military high command seeking support from Doha and Qatar for Afghan reconciliation process through Qatar Office of Taliban. There is a wider support for this reconciliation to happen however the question is how will it happen when Afghan stakeholders have been opting completely different directions?
Despite high hopes, it is unfortunate to see peace process not meeting deadlines. Side by side, Taliban escalated violence and change in terms of talks is continuously discouraging peace occurrence. The state of inertia generated by the Afghan conflict situation, coupled with the fear of a regional spillover, similar to that of Middle East, calls for a necessary momentum to push for a workable peace settlement. It is not just Taliban at hand to be tackled by Afghanistan but continuous conflict could widen space for other such elements. Presence of Daesh in Afghanistan explains this well. And the continuous label of terror land does not contribute to stability anyway.
As of now, Afghan government cannot offer much with their writ challenged. And Pakistan being key ally and neighbor has already paid heavily; any spillover would be too much to count on. Afghanistan had not been serious to take action against those terrorists fleeing from our side of border due to military offensive in North Waziristan. Similarly, use of Afghan soil for terror activities in Pakistan just adds more complexities to the situation.
President Ghani has welcomed peace process, calling for action against those unparallel to peace. However, it is Afghan government who has to bring out a lucrative package to materialize peace process. And this is why Pakistan reiterates peace process to be Afghan owned. It is Afghan leadership who could best understand the undercurrent of disagreement over terms proposing other way outs. An enduring peace could only be attained from position of strength instead of fears.
— The writer is Assistant Research Officer, Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.

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