Resuming Afghan talks
IT is reported that Afghan gov ernment and Taliban representa tives held secret talks in Qatar to resume the dialogue process to end the protracted war in Afghanistan. The first round of recent talks was held in September while the second round of talks held in early October in the presence of US representative. The Qatar talks are the first initiative after the inconclusive Murree Process that could not reach to its logical end due to changing circumstances given the death of Mullah Omer, the Taliban supreme leader. Later on, Pakistani efforts to reach out to the new leader, Mullah Mansour and his death in a drone strike was a major setback to the efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan.
United States, being an important party to the conflict has been part of almost all the talks that were arranged with Taliban whether Afghan government was part of process or not.In this regard, the first initiative has been the secret talks between US and the Taliban in November 2010, when direct contact between US officials and the Taliban was facilitated by German and Qatari officials in Munich, Germany. The preliminary talks started in February 2011 in Doha and came to be known as the Doha Process. The opening of a Doha office, holding of rounds of talks showed the willingness of the two parties to the Afghan conflict, the US and the Taliban, to seek a political end to the war. The talks remained stalled due to refusal of both parties to agree to contesting points such as release of Taliban prisonersand were only revived after 18 months, when the Taliban agreed to resume talks.
Similarly, former Afghan government under President Karzai, formed High Peace Council (HPC) to hold talks with the Taliban, but due to presence of former Northern alliance members in the council, it could not win over the trust and confidence of the Taliban and remained ineffective in brokering the talks between Afghan government and Taliban. There was mistrust between President Karzai and the United States and other Western partners regarding dialogue with the Taliban. But the Unity government in Afghanistan has been willing to resume the dialogue process with Taliban and even asked Pakistan as well as other states to mediate the talks. Murree process was the result of President Ghani’s efforts to reach out to the neighbouring states; China and Pakistan to ask them to play role in initiating the dialogue process.
Murree process was also important due to presence of United States and China as observer states. China, a neighbouring state has stakes in the peace and stability of Afghanistan that cannot be achieved unless all ethnic groups including warring factions are included in the political process. Pakistan on its part has done enough to bring the warring parties to negotiation table. Pakistan being the neighbour has suffered more due to Afghan conflict than any other state. It is not surprising that Taliban factions have continued talks and fighting at the same time. For many, this dual tactic represents the divide among Taliban but it can be attributed to the show of power by Taliban as they overran Kunduz second time and have been engaged in severe fighting with Afghan forces. They perhaps want to negotiate from a position of strength to make a favorable bargain for them.
To move forward, it is also important to look at the causes of failures of previous peace efforts. To end the Afghan conflict, bilateral, trilateral as well as quadrilateral initiatives have been taken but all these processes remained inconclusive due to one reason or other. The most important reason has been the lack of trust and confidence among the dialogue partners. Whatever reason has been behind the previous stalled talks, it is the responsibility of the Taliban as well as the Afghan government to make compromises for the future of Afghanistan. Talking about talks is not going to resolve the issue but there is need to take concrete steps to end the conflict and bring peace for the people of Afghanistan. — The writer is a Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad