AFGHANISTAN

With the exit of Osama bin Laden from the scene, the Afghan Tal­iban would be more ap­proach­able and the peace process may pos­si­bly take a turn for the bet­ter.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Raza Khan

It is not long be­fore the Afghan Tal­iban will come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

Hec­tic diplo­matic and back chan­nel ef­forts have been un­der­way by dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers to bring Afghan Tal­iban to some kind of agree­ment to es­tab­lish peace in the war-torn coun­try. Al­though no break­through has been achieved in this re­gard as yet, the un­fold­ing sit­u­a­tion in the Af-Pak re­gion is such that Afghan Tal­iban can­not re­main re­cal­ci­trant for long. In some way or the other they will have to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble with Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai-led Afghanistan’s con­sti­tu­tional gov­ern­ment as well as the United States-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion. The killing of Al Qaeda founder and head, Osama bin Laden, is now an im­por­tant fac­tor that will have an im­pact on the Afghan peace process in the days ahead.

Con­tact with sources close to Afghan Tal­iban re­veals that the mili­tia is ob­vi­ously giv­ing in­di­ca­tions of war-weari­ness af­ter al­most seven years of rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful re­sis­tance against the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion (NATO)cen­tered In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity and As­sis­tance Force (ISAF), in­clud­ing troops from nearly 43 coun­tries. Afghan Tal­iban are will­ing to talk to the Afghan gov­ern­ment. How­ever, re­main­ing true to their very ego­is­tic stand they do not want to talk to Afghan or U.S. authorities from a po­si­tion of weak­ness. There­fore, they are still stick­ing to their oft-re­peated stance that they would not en­gage in any par­leys un­less for­eign troops are on Afghan soil.

One of the re­cent ini­tia­tives for peace in Afghanistan has been launched by Tur­key and the cor­ner­stone of the new peace plan is that un­der it Afghan Tal­iban are be­ing courted and con­vinced to open a ‘po­lit­i­cal’ of­fice in Tur­key so that talks be­tween them and the Afghan gov­ern­ment could be fa­cil­i­tated. This is in­deed an in­ge­nious en­deavor and if sin­cerely im­ple­mented it has the po­ten­tial to re­store peace to the re­gion. Sig­nif­i­cantly, Afghan Tal­iban still con­sider them­selves the le­git­i­mate ‘gov­ern­ment’ of Afghanistan that has been ousted by west­ern coali­tion forces in com­plete vi­o­la­tion of ‘in­ter­na­tional law’. They have made this a premise to es­chew any talks un­less in­ter­na­tional forces leave Afghanistan as this would au­to­mat­i­cally en­able them to re­store their power in Afghanistan as no ri­val mili­tia has the where­withal and pub­lic sup­port to do the same. Per­haps this has been the rea­son that Afghan Tal­iban did not con­sider it ap­pro­pri­ate to have a po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion like the Pales­tinian Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (PLO) to ne­go­ti­ate mat­ters with the cur­rent Afghan authorities or U.S.-led west­ern forces, the de facto ar­chi­tect and but­tress of the ex­ist­ing dis­pen­sa­tion in Afghanistan. There­fore, Karzai keeps com­plain­ing that he has no

one to ne­go­ti­ate with since there is no rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Tal­iban.

Thus the most im­por­tant fea­ture of the new peace ini­tia­tive is that it aims to transform Afghan Tal­iban into a po­lit­i­cal en­tity from a mere mil­i­tant out­fit. Only in this way talks could be made pos­si­ble and mean­ing­ful.

The new peace plan is also sig­nif­i­cant be­cause the ini­tia­tive has come from in­side Afghanistan while the re­gional states are fully back­ing it. Sources in the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment sug­gest that, in fact, some of the re­gional states par­tic­u­larly Pak­istan has given its in­put in fi­nal­iz­ing the new ini­tia­tive for es­tab­lish­ing peace in Afghanistan. The need for a re­gional ini­tia­tive of bring­ing peace to the war and in­sur­gency-rav­aged AfPak re­gion was be­ing felt for long as all the in­ter­na­tional ef­forts and mil­i­tary ac­tion to sta­bi­lize the re­gion and mop­ping up Al Qaeda and Tal­iban move­ment have failed so far.

The new peace ini­tia­tive spear­headed by Tur­key seems to be a step in the right direc­tion. Tur­key has had a dis­tant in­ter­est in Afghanistan un­like re­gional states, par­tic­u­larly Pak­istan and Iran. Ob­jec­tively speak­ing, Tur­key is the most suit­able coun­try to lead the process as be­ing a Mus­lim coun­try and the suc­ces­sor of one of the great Mus­lim Em­pires, the Ot­toman, Tur­key has the cred­i­bil­ity to lead such a process.

How­ever, when the con­cerned quar­ters were an­tic­i­pat­ing a pos­i­tive out­come of the Tur­key-led peace ini­tia­tive, com­pelled by new de­vel­op­ments, par­tic­u­larly in­creas­ing Amer­i­can an­i­mos­ity to­wards Pak­istan, Islamabad sud­denly came up with a new plan for peace in Afghanistan, which has taken most of the wind out of the sails of the for­mer.

Un­der the new Pak­istani strat­egy, Islamabad has started ef­forts to court sus­pect­ing Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, by telling him that in or­der to end the con­flict in Afghanistan he should take the lead by acting in­de­pen­dently of U.S. in­flu­ence. Pak­istan’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence es­tab­lish­ment be­lieve that it was the most op­por­tune and crit­i­cal time to prod Karzai to act in­de­pen­dently. One of the rea­sons for bet­ting on Karzai is the lat­ter’s not very cor­dial re­la­tions with Pres­i­dent Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. Thus fol­low­ing in on this line of think­ing a high-level Pak­istani del­e­ga­tion led by Prime Min­is­ter Yousaf Raza Gi­lani along with the coun­try’s Army Chief, Gen­eral Ash­faq Pervez Kiyani and ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha made an un­prece­dented whirl­wind visit to Kabul for talks with Karzai. The pres­ence of po­lit­i­cal, mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence heads of Pak­istan si­mul­ta­ne­ously in talks with Pres­i­dent Karzai was meant to as­sure the lat­ter that this time Pak­istan re­ally meant busi­ness and was ab­so­lutely se­ri­ous and earnest in restor­ing nor­malcy and sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan. Afghan authorities have con­tin­u­ally com­plained that the Pak­istani mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence com­plex does not want Afghanistan to act in­de­pen­dently and only want peace re­stored there on its terms.

Dur­ing the visit, the Pak­istan del­e­ga­tion pre­sented Pres­i­dent Karzai with a new peace pro­posal and ‘as­sured’ him that if he got rid of the Amer­i­cans’ stran­gu­lat­ing in­flu­ence he would be the num­ber one choice of Pak­istan in Afghanistan, ahead of the Afghan Tal­iban, Haqqani Net­work and also the for­mer Afghan prime min­is­ter Gul­badin Hek­mat­yar, who used to be Islamabad’s big­gest stooge among Afghans.

Pak­istan con­sid­ers it is high time to ex­e­cute the new strat­egy be­cause it has dawned upon it that Pres­i­dent Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is nei­ther in the mood nor could tol­er­ate any more the not-too trans­par­ent role of Pak­istan in Afghanistan.

Pak­istani strate­gists be­lieve that the Islamabad strat­egy would also be in a way ben­e­fi­cial to the U.S. and NATO as it would help their troops to have a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for an ‘hon­or­able’ ex­ist from Afghanistan.

The lat­est peace over­ture from Pak­istan could prove to be a ju­di­cious step but the ini­tia­tive spear­headed by Tur­key seem­ingly has more solid foun­da­tions and chances of suc­cess than the for­mer. The May 2 killing of Al Qaeda founder and head, Osama Bin Laden, in an Amer­i­can com­mando ac­tion in the Pak­istani city of Ab­bot­tabad is go­ing to have a far-reach­ing im­pact on the peace process in Afghanistan. Now Afghan Tal­iban will surely re­visit their strat­egy of avoid­ing talks with the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the Amer­i­cans be­fore the with­drawal of the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion forces. Real­is­ti­cally speak­ing, af­ter elim­i­na­tion of OBL Afghan Tal­iban can­not ex­pect to fall back on Al Qaeda for a sig­nif­i­cant part of their fi­nances and fight­ing strate­gies. It was Laden who pro­vided fi­nan­cial suc­cor for the Afghan Tal­iban and was a pa­tron of their war strat­egy.

More­over, af­ter the killing of the Al Qaeda head, Afghan Tal­iban do not have any­more rea­son to re­main ob­sti­nate as it was the re­fusal of Mul­lah Omar to hand over OBL af­ter the 9/11 in­ci­dents to the Amer­i­cans that trig­gered the U.S.led NATO and ISAF in­va­sion of Afghanistan in Novem­ber 2001. Now that the very bone of con­tention be­tween the par­ties to the con­flict has been elim­i­nated, it should cat­alyze the peace process in Afghanistan. The au­thor is a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst who writes ex­ten­sively on po­lit­i­cal and so­cio-de­vel­op­ment is­sues of Afghanistan. He is presently work­ing on his doc­toral the­sis on re­li­gious ex­trem­ism and terrorism in Pak­istan.

Will peace talks with the Tal­iban bear any fruit in the near fu­ture?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.