Peace efforts doubled
When the US and its allies failed to impose a military solution, and its sinister plan to pitch Taliban against Al-Qaeda, or to divide Taliban by categorizing them as good and bad Taliban and making them fight against each other also failed, and morale of ISAF troops started sinking because of prolonged stay in battle zone, home sickness, rising battle casualties, suicide cases and psychiatric problems, and US economy and prestige kept sliding down, Obama was left with no other option but to take the strategic decision to exit. The US decided to negotiate with the same lot declared as bad and irreconcilable since it wanted peaceful conditions for smooth transition.
Pakistan which till recent had been pressed by USA to do more to eliminate terrorism is now being pressured to do more to restore peace. Under both set of circumstances, the US put the onus of blame on Pakistan that it was not doing enough. It has so far not uttered a word of appreciation that Pakistan’s preference for political negotiations over use of force from the very outset was principled and correct and unlike others, Pakistan never resorted to double game to let down its allies. The US has so far not admitted that it had been wrongly ridiculing and maligning Pakistan. To top it all, the US warned Pakistan that it will cut off economic and military assistance if it accepted TTP offer of peace talks. As a late thought, this has now been negated.
In the backdrop of US-Taliban parleys getting disrupted in March 2012 and opening of political office in Doha also fizzling out, other countries are trying to renew the dialogue process. A meeting hosted by a French non-governmental research institute took place in Paris on 17 December 2012, which was also attended by a two-member delegation of the Taliban. President Obama and Karzai met in Washington on January 11, 2013 to reiterate troops exit plan and tie up other details. The third trilateral summit was hosted by British Premier in London on February 3-4, 2013 and attended by Presidents Zardari and Karzai, Army chiefs, intelligence chiefs, foreign ministers and Chairman AHPC. An ulema conference jointly hosted by Pakistan and Afghanistan has been planned next month which is also directed towards securing peace through dialogue with Taliban. However, like the zero sum outcome of Istanbul, Bonn and Chicago Summits, these meetings also couldn’t achieve any breakthrough because of the absence of Taliban.
What is noteworthy is that the ones, who had remained averse to talks with the hard line Taliban and had branded them as irreconcilable, are now keen to talk to them. As many as 30-40 countries are chipping in to create conditions conducive for holding peace talks and to end the war. Notwithstanding the keenness of the three principal stakeholders – Afghanistan, Pakistan, USA – the trio has yet to iron out their differences. Not only the three have yet to come out of the clouds of distrust, each has its own solution to the tangle. It is opined that the US is not sincere in ending the futile war and that peace talks are a sheer farce.
Pakistan is the only country which genuinely seeks friendly and stable Afghanistan since it cannot afford a hostile regime in Kabul. War in Afghanistan has caused phenomenal damage to Pakistan. It has constantly called for a negotiated political settlement to end the war. Not only it ignored Kabul’s unwarranted filibustering, it went out of the way to accept all demands of Chairman AHPC including unconditional release of 16 Taliban prisoners in its custody since 2002. Karzai is getting jittery and eying everyone including his political opponents, his patrons in Washington and the west and Pakistan with suspicion. He is still not comfortable with the idea of Taliban office in Doha and has put a condition that this office will correspond with AHPC only. He is feeling dejected that Taliban prisoners freed by Pakistan instead of strengthening his hands have strengthened Mullah Omar.
In utter frustration, Karzai is blaming Pakistan for not keeping a tag on them. In London he suggested that Pakistan was preventing the Taliban from entering into peace talks with his government and was responsible for creating instability in his country. Karzai government is also doubtful whether the Taliban are genuinely interested in power sharing as conveyed by Pakistan since it doesn’t trust Pakistan. He has no confidence in Track II talks and peace meetings since he fears that all these are meant to sideline him and undermine his government. Karzai is blaming everyone else except himself for the dismal situation in Afghanistan. He no more urges Washington to prolong the stay of foreign troops and says that their departure will lessen violence. Pashtuns see Karzai as a traitor responsible for deaths of tens of thousands of Afghans and hate him intensely. The US too is getting fed up of his vacillating moods and feels he is obstructing peace efforts rather than accelerating them. In short, he has become a pain in the neck for all.
Like fast sinking Karzai regime, India too is feeling perturbed and edgy for being ignored in the whole peace process. It had worked hard to become the leading stakeholder in Afghanistan, but in the endgame its chief patron cannot find any role for India. On finding that Pakistan is fast repairing its fractured relations with USA and is steadily making its place and emerging as the key country in the final talks, India’s frustration is increasing. It is shuddering to imagine the post 2014 scenario in which the Taliban emerge as the predominant force in Afghanistan, and Kashmir intifada gets activated once again and wrath of terrorism seeps out of Afghanistan and Pakistan and flows into occupied Kashmir and India. Hanging of Afzal Guru has triggered resentment in occupied Kashmir and may become a flashpoint. The mere thought is giving nightmares to Indian leadership.
The Taliban representatives besides attending meetings in France and Tokyo have remained in touch with host of countries. They are however keeping their cards close to their chests and have so far not given any indication that they are prepared for talks. They seem to prefer negotiating with the US under the shadow of trustworthy guarantors or other Afghan parties rather than with puppet regime of Karzai.
Keeping in mind the conflicting perceptions of all the stakeholders, one thing is certain that foreign imposed formula will not work. It must not be forgotten that Taliban had been unjustly removed from power and relentlessly persecuted. Yet no amount of force or trickery could cow them down. They are now in a winning position and hold the key to peace in Afghanistan. No headway can be made to settle Afghan tangle without their active participation in all the meetings and accommodating their point of view generously. Omar’s demand for Shariah will have to be accepted. Although the Taliban today are not as united as they were some time ago, yet the Taliban on both sides of the divide have reposed full trust in the leadership of Mullah Omar and are getting on one page to further intensify their offensive drive against US-NATO forces in the coming spring.
He is accepted as Ameer-ul-Momineen by Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and Pashtuns view him with approbation. Of late he has softened up his hard line posture and seems inclined to share power with Karzai regime. He is on record having stated that he has no desire for a civil war in post 2014. His leadership will be tested when intra-Afghan dialogue kickoff and he will be required to persuade all militant factions to ceasefire and agree to secure durable peace through dialogue.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org