Re­sum­ing Afghan talks

Pakistan Observer - - FRONT PAGE - Sa­man Zulfqar

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

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