WITH the meetings of Quadrilateral Coordination Group for restoring peace and stability particularly in Afghanistan and the region, hopes were quite high for its success. But then suddenly Taliban spurned the talks and came up with hoary demands. The Taliban want the complete withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, and to make the point, they are again backing out of peace talks. A statement issued by Taliban reportedly said, “Until Taliban names are removed from international blacklists, and until our detainees are released, talks will yield no results.”
The international talks with series of dialogues were supposed to take place as an effort to put an end to the more than decade long conflict. Several countries including the USA, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan had met to organize the talks. Last summer, countries attempted to hold reconciliation parleys in Murree, but to no avail after they released the news about the death of Mullah Omar and resultantly the efforts of peace process got sabotaged. As the efforts for resumption of talks were started again and active consultations among some high officials were in progress, Taliban announced back out. So, it seems Kabul now is in a tight spot, since Taliban cite US support as the main reason for rejecting the talks, but without it, the government can hardly negotiate from the position of power.
Presence of American Troops in Afghanistan is one thing and deploying them out of their bases in battle fields is another. Taliban accuse that Kabul government is not sincere in its approach towards peace talks and they actually want to buy some time to weaken Taliban. Problem with Kabul government is that its different segments are not on the same page in dealing with Taliban. Its Intelligence agency NDS, Military commanders and some former warlords sitting in the government are against peace talks to protect their personal interests. They fear that in case of any peace deal with Taliban they may have to leave from power corridor to create space for Taliban.
President Ghani will have to make sure that his whole team is on same page. Only then he can talk from a position of strength. In his address to Parliament on March 6, Ghani accentuated the significance of talks by saying that “Taliban are facing a major test — to choose whether they want peace or war.” In the wake of Taliban’s refusal to have direct talks with the Afghan government, the Afghan President’s statement shows that he is determined to proceed in his mission to take his country forward. He insisted on the need to have an open-ended, sustained and sustainable process of peace as “real peace cannot come from closed doors.”
Taliban too will have to realize that prolonged conflict can be counter-productive for them as well. They must realize that final settlement is possible only on negotiation table. Taliban are also not clear in their demands. Once they said they want to talk about the pull out of American troops directly with Americans, and at the same time they demand it from Kabul regime. For a better political future they will have to respect peace process. Interestingly, the Taliban’s official statement reportedly reads that the Taliban’s leader Mullah Mansour didn’t authorize any group members to participate in the talks, but he has his own rivals within the group, who contest his leadership. Now it’s a matter of fact that Taliban are facing a split power struggle within them, nevertheless, the group led by Mullah Akhtar Mansour is the main player and has presence across the country while his rivals are limited to some provinces.
There are just few rival groups which are actually more hardliner and may not support peace process like Mansour can. Being under pressure from other groups for participating in peace process, any bad move by his group can cost him de-faction among fighters. Reportedly Kabul is also making efforts to create further off-shoots within Taliban. This may weaken Taliban but it will be hard for Kabul to find out single influential group to talk with. Certainly More factions will not only create problem for Kabul but other powers too, who are struggling for peace talks. After Kunduz fall, it’s no difficult to find sympathizers of Taliban within Afghanistan and Taliban do have strong hold and support in various Afghan provinces. The extensive complex state of war between the Afghan government and the Taliban has a particular substitute which is peace. And the only way forward in that direction is to open a line of dialogue.
The mediatory intervention of China, the United States, and Pakistan must remain consistent, focusing on finding the solution to end the state of conflict that had innumerable ramifications in form of violence and mayhem. For Pakistan this resumption of dialogue is of utmost importance as it cannot undergo new wave of insurgency from Taliban, particularly when ISIS is reportedly also making its footholds in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s significance for reinstating regional peace and bringing key players on dialogue table to facilitate harmony in the region cannot be overshadowed in a day’s time. All the sincere channels of communication can work out best if hostilities are stopped particularly inside Afghanistan. A conducive environment is needed to work out as apparently ball seems to be in Taliban’s court and withdrawal of any of player from it will badly upshot reconciliation process.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think tank based in Islamabad.