An open­ing for peace in Afghanistan?

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

AMER­I­CANS were starkly re­minded last week that their mil­i­tary’s role in Afghanistan is far from fin­ished, nearly 15 years af­ter the 9/11 at­tacks. A US drone strike killed the leader of the Tal­iban, Mul­lah Akhtar Man­sour. While the strike may seem aimed at a mil­i­tary de­feat of the in­sur­gent group, it was not. Rather, Mr. Man­sour was tar­geted for be­ing an ob­sta­cle to peace talks – and to the hopes for na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. This is why his re­place­ment, Moulavi Haibat­ul­lah Akhun­zada, is draw­ing so much in­ter­est. As head of the Tal­iban’s group of re­li­gious schol­ars – rather than a mil­i­tary com­man­der – he may have a dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­ment to­ward the prospect of peace. And as the group’s long time cler­i­cal leader, he could bring greater au­thor­ity in per­suad­ing other Tal­iban lead­ers to start ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

That pos­si­bil­ity, while cur­rently slim in the eyes of many ex­perts, must not be ig­nored by the na­tions of the Quadri­lat­eral Co­or­di­na­tion Group – Afghanistan, China, Pak­istan, and the United States. This group has tried for three years to launch peace talks for Afghanistan. Its ef­forts are based on the be­lief that the only and best way to re­solve the con­flict in Afghanistan is through ne­go­ti­a­tion and a peace process. De­spite the Afghan Army’s im­proved per­for­mance on the bat­tle­field un­der a re­cently elected gov­ern­ment, a mil­i­tary vic­tory over the Tal­iban seems re­mote. To start the ne­go­ti­a­tions, how­ever, Pak­istan must finally im­ple­ment its stated pol­icy of op­pos­ing all vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists on its ter­ri­tory, not just those that strike its own peo­ple. The US was able to lo­cate Man­sour as he trav­elled openly in Pak­istan be­fore hit­ting him with a drone. While the strike was an em­bar­rass­ing in­tru­sion on Pak­istani sovereignty, it re­vealed how lit­tle the Tal­iban wor­ries about the Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence ser­vice. China, as a close part­ner of Pak­istan, has a pe­cu­liar in­ter­est in the Afghan peace process. It is spend­ing bil­lions on roads, rail­ways, and other in­fra­struc­ture to link its econ­omy with coun­tries to its west. It will need sta­bil­ity in the re­gion to build what it calls a new “Silk Road.” With Pres­i­dent Obama plan­ning to draw down US troop lev­els to a resid­ual force of 5,500 by the time he leaves of­fice early next year, the Tal­iban have an in­cen­tive to ne­go­ti­ate a peace­ful role for the group in Afghan so­ci­ety. The ob­sta­cles to peace are not worth more war. — The Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor

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