Year 2018 so far has brought major shifts in the politics and security of wobbly Afghanistan. The already war hit country with the beginning of 2018 witnessed major chaos and security lapses in the system when Kabul and some other areas of Afghanistan were attacked by Afghan Taliban. This situation not only raised concerns on the so-called security apparatus of Afghanistan but outstretched questions for regional and international powers to find a permanent solution for Afghan peace.
Surprisingly, the Taliban’s who share the power and have strong control in some area of Afghanistan published an open letter to USA, articulating a plea for peace talks and calling on the “American people” and “peace-loving congressmen” to pressurize the Donald Trump administration into negotiations. The letter’s release comes as the US steps up airstrikes in support of anti-insurgent ground and air operations by Afghan forces, under Trump’s new war strategy. The 2800 word letter released by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid stated “If the policy of using force is continued for another one hundred years, the outcome will be the same, as you have observed over the last six months since the initiation of Trump’s new strategy.” They claim that the war in Afghanistan, launched in 2001 “under the influence of misleading propaganda by your officials”, has now lost international support and should be brought to a negotiated conclusion. This open letter by Taliban shows that they still believe US as a major stakeholder and key player for Afghanistan government and such offers by them which they have rejected in past, might persuade US and Afghan government.
Later President Ashraf Ghani while extending an olive branch of peace to Taliban’s in an international conference in Kabul, offered peace initiatives and asked to start dialogue and talks in order to bring enduring peace in Afghanistan. In the direct negotiations with Taliban, President Ghani offered ceasefire, security of populous, transitional confidence-building arrangements, constitutional review, releasing of prisoners, recognition of women rights, new elections and rehabilitation of militants. Ghani’s peace offer was appreciated by local circles and regional powers but the relationship that exists between Taliban and the Afghan government and the almost three decade old instability in Afghanistan, has some serious thoughts. As one of the key point missing during Ghani’s peace initiatives was removal of US and NATO forces and Taliban has always forced upon removal of these foreign forces. They in past have remain a freezing point for dialogue between Afghan government and Taliban. Afghan political set-up which is very much economically dependent on support from US and its allied forces, can never ask US and allied forces to leave their soil immediately.
However, US believes that its use of military power and surge in air strikes has forced Taliban to move towards peace. But Taliban have never considered themselves on back-foot while operating in Afghanistan. They still believe they have major power shares in Afghanistan and are still able to extend their influence in any area of country they want to. Likewise regional powers like Russia, China and Iran believe that Taliban should be brought to dialogue table because they carry major identity as insurgents and long-lasting peace in Afghanistan depends on them. Afghan government is very much reliant on the USA not only for military and economic aid but for exercising its policies. Such peace offer shows that Afghan political high ups are now also looking for new strategies and alternatives in Afghan set up.
Meanwhile, Pakistan itself dealing with menace of terrorism and infiltration of terrorists from Afghanistan has always stressed on peaceful and stable neighbour. In past Pakistan has always remained on forefront for all kind of peace initiatives. Pakistan in past hoped on Afghan leadership to announce comprehensive peace plan and bring an end to the lingering conflict in Afghanistan. Commenting on Peace offer by Ghani, senior US diplomat stated that the United States believes Pakistan can play a much more important role in shaping the Afghan Taliban’s behaviour. Alice Wells stressed on Islamabad’s critical role to provide incentives to the Afghan Taliban for undertaking negotiations with the Ashraf Ghani government. She said that Pakistan has interests that it also wants to ensure are met during the course of stabilisation of Afghanistan which we take seriously and so the dialogue we have with Pakistan whether it’s through military or civilian channels seeks to address these core concerns.” While commenting on Pak-US relations, she admitted the fact that US had gone much further in underscoring the importance and the centrality of this issue in its ability to expand relations with Pakistan.
There is a debate going on that Ghani’s peace talks offer is very critical because of its timings. As the Taliban would be preparing for their spring offensive launch so will they come on dialogue table and hold talks rather than their traditional mayhem method? One belief is that Taliban will continue with small scale fights and look up towards Afghan government strategies and responses. History however says that Taliban if agree to come for dialogue may rebuff any time like they did it past, so Kabul government is much under pressure for these initiatives and definitely without the support of regional and international powers it alone cannot handle it. Certainly, for a country which has remained dupe of war for past many years because of many external and internal factors, such peace initiatives will face ups and downs and cynicism will loom around but for regional peace it is important that all powers should come forward and try to work out for feasible and long- term peace enduring paces.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.