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.
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?