Hopes Still High for Afghan Settlement

Mr Tariq Rizwan

Afghanistan enjoys a tremendous geostrategic importance and is considered a bridge between the warm waters and the minerals laden Central Asia and Eurasia. Such importance proved to be disadvantageous as the country remained a battle ground among the regional and extra regional powers coupled by the wary local Pashtun traditions. Indeed, the country’s importance is intact and the instable Afghanistan is considered the only stumbling block in the way of cooperation between South, Central Asia, Eurasia and the world at large. The recent quadrilateral talks among the major stake holders i.e Pakistan, Afghanistan, US and China appears to be an understanding of what needs to be done. Yet the moves lack clarity on how to achieve peace and prosperity in war torn country.

The talks held on 11January, 2016 in Islamabad were aimed at kick starting the negotiations for a final peace settlement in Afghanistan. It emphasized the need for another round of dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban and sought to revive the process that collapsed last summer round, after Afghanistan announced that Mullah Mohammad Omar, founder and leader of the Taliban, had died allegedly in a Pakistani hospital more than two years ago. The move was a willful act by some elements in Kabul to derail the talks between the two sides. The announcement led the Taliban to pull out of the talks after just one meeting hosted by Islamabad.

On the eve of the talks held in Islamabad, Mr Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Adviser, has said that “the primary objective of the reconciliation process is to create conditions to bring the Taliban groups to the negotiation table and offer them incentives that can persuade them to move away from using violence as a tool for pursuing political goals“. The move emphasized the immediate need for direct talks between representatives of the Afghanistan government and representatives from Taliban groups in a peace process that aims to preserve Afghanistan’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Quadrilateral Coordination Group – comprising representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US is scheduled to meet again in Kabul on January 18 to continue discussions on a roadmap. Meanwhile, a former Taliban senior official said that “military confrontation is not the solution” and that a “political solution” was needed to end the war in Afghanistan. The situation has changed and the Afghan government, America and Pakistan seem to have a readiness for dialogue. America has realized that a military confrontation is not the solution.

As compared to the past, the move has the backing of military establishments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan as revealed by the frequent meetings of the two sides in the recent past. Gen Raheel Sharif and his Afghan counterpart have agreed to share terror related information. The fresh move seems to have their go ahead and likely destined to success. The recent IS suicide attack on Pakistani Consulate in Jalalabad on 13 January 2016, reflects the serious threat, posed by the group and needs a joint counter strategy. Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan Janan Mosazai, while addressing a seminar in Islamabad on 13 January 2016, said that majority of militants fleeing operations in Pakistan joined the Afghan chapter of IS group and claimed that IS has become a major threat in the region.

Given the fluid situation that the Taliban have found themselves under the leadership of Mullah Mansoor still appears to be contested and it is not clear which factions will emerge victorious in the intra-Taliban struggles. They remained divided into groups as in the past. Mulla Rasool Akhund group rejects Mullan Umer’s successor Mulla Akhter Mansoor’s authority. He has dismissed any talks under the mediation of the US or China or of Pakistan. His deputy Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, has told Reuters on 11 January, “We have a very clear-cut stance about peace talks: all the foreign occupying forces would need to be withdrawn. The issue is between the Afghans, and only the Afghans can resolve it. We would not allow any third force to mediate.”

Though efforts were made to overcome the trust deficit between the two sides as evident from the frequent visits of both civil and military high ups, yet Pakistan and Afghanistan need to continue such parleys to see the dream of peaceful Afghanistan and the region comes true. From a Pakistani security standpoint, military or police action against Taliban factions could also trigger a domestic militancy backlash, a factor that simply should not be discounted in order to pursue foreign policy goals. Improving border management is a better idea and the visit of Pakistan’s DGMO to Kabul shows all out sincerity on the part of Pakistan.

There are reports that Pakistan has offered some Taliban names with whom the Afghan government could potentially hold talks. There should be no delay and the quadrilateral group has to make peace achievable before the next fighting season begins. Mr Sartaj Aziz, has suggested not to put any precondition by any side as it is problematic. It would not be possible to bring the sides on negotiating table. Afghan government should not demand that action, military or otherwise, be taken against Taliban elements that it has deemed irreconcilable.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has remained the most peaceful country due its political system based on Islamic Sharia. Hence, the Taliban’s demand of constitutional reforms in the war torn country based on Islamic Sharia is not a bad option. Moreover, Afghans have the history of zero tolerance towards foreign forces on its territory and US can seriously think over their demand of complete withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan. The regional and extra regional powers can consider these demands seriously to see lasting peace in the region in general and Afghanistan in particular.

The writer is a free lance journalist based in London


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