Towards Afghan peace
Anew window of opportunity seems to have opened for Afghan peace. A meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) on the "Afghan Peace and Reconciliation" process in its meeting last week agreed on a roadmap that will be "stipulating the stages and steps in the process". Specifically, the four-nation group, which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China, has decided to hold talks with insurgent groups by the end of the month to push for reconciliation and end the conflict in Afghanistan. The main advantage and strength of the QCG is that all the major stakeholders - Afghanistan, US and Pakistan - are part of it. The presence of China in the quadrilateral arrangement is of special significance as Beijing has a direct stake in peace in the region. Beijing's interest principally lies in warding off the danger of militancy spreading to the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Since the launch of the Group in December, last week's meeting has been described as the most fruitful. According to an insider report, the roadmap emphasizes an equal role for all the members who will now work on the basis of "shared responsibility". This is a welcome change in approach as previously the onus was mainly on Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. But this strategy did not succeed because of the deep gulf of mistrust between Islamabad and Kabul. The major challenge is how to bring the Taliban round to start intra-Afghan talks. Some observers of the Afghan scene are of the opinion that it would be very difficult to convince the Taliban as they have not yet given any indication that they wish to sit face-to-face with the Afghan government. However, the Taliban political negotiators last month suggested some confidence building measures which could pave the way for the start of peace negotiations. These include activation of their political office in Qatar, removal of travel restriction and release of prisoners. The Taliban also want to talk to the US first to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces.
It should not be difficult to meet some of these demands. For any real progress towards a sustainable solution, there has to be some visible, concrete action on Taliban demands like the scrapping of the black lists and releasing some prisoners. To build trust between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Kabul also needs to consider additional steps like amending the Afghan Constitution, formation of an interim government comprising Taliban representatives, establishing a consensus on the future governance system, initiating long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction in the country and providing tangible guarantees for non-interference by outside powers.
One of the main causes of the 14-year-long war in Afghanistan is the military presence of Nato and US forces in the country. Clearly, the exit of all foreign forces is predicated on the creation of an environment that guarantees peace and stability. That in turn would depend on the various Afghan factions, including the Taliban, coming to an agreed consensus on peacemaking, governance systems and mainstreaming of all those who have fought against the government or foreign forces over the past many years. On their part, the Taliban will have to pledge not to launch their Spring Offensive as it will throw a spanner in the works of the proposed talks.
The Pakistan government has repeatedly made it clear that it stands for a sovereign, united, prosperous, peaceful Afghanistan which is in the interest of the entire region. For Pakistan, it is vital that the latest peace initiative succeeds, as an end to the civil war will bring stability not only in Afghanistan but the region itself. More significantly, a political settlement in Afghanistan would contribute greatly to Pakistan's own fight against terrorism.