Prospects for Afghan peace
DISRUPTION of second round of Murree peace process in July 2015 was a strategic setback for the Afghan peace process. Ever since, Pakistan has been doing its best to bring together vital nuts and bolts to jumpstart the circus. Hours before representatives of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) were to assemble for the fourth round of talks in Kabul, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif dashed to Doha and discussed the role of the Afghan Taliban's office in Doha. His meetings focussed on matters relating to regional security and facilitation of the reconciliation process in Afghanistan by Doha office, through Qatari leadership. Army chief's visit to Doha was part of Pakistan's efforts to persuade all Taliban groups to return to the negotiating table.
During the fourth round, the QCG agreed to continue joint endeavours as part of their shared commitments to advance the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Now Pakistan is all set to host direct talks between the government in Kabul and Afghan Taliban, including other insurgent groups, by the first week of March. "The QCG member states invite Taliban and other groups to participate through their autho- rised representatives in the first round of direct peace talks with the Afghan government," post fourth round QCG communique said. "Pakistan has graciously offered to host this round of talks in Islamabad. The QCG members welcomed the statement by Ashraf Ghani on February 15 which underlined the Afghan government's commitment for peace and reconciliation with Taliban groups and Hezb-e-Islami," the statement read. The QCG member states also appreciated the decision by Afghanistan and Pakistan to constitute a bilateral joint working group to work with the religious clergy of these two countries.
Earlier a two-member Afghan Taliban delegation, led by head of the group's political office in Qatar, had paid an unannounced visit to Pakistan as part of preparations for the formal resumption of direct talks with the Afghan government. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, who is heading the Taliban's political office in Qatar alongside Qari Din Muhammad had travelled to Islamabad on February 06, coinciding with the third round of QCG. During the visit, Doha delegates held informal discussions with senior officials of the four countries. They had shared a list of their representatives who would attend the formal talks. This is the first time that Taliban's Qatar office is taking part in the peace initiative backed by both China and the US. When talks between Afghan Taliban and Afghan government took place under the Murree peace process in July 2015, Taliban's political office in Qatar had distanced itself from the process. The then head of Taliban's political office Sayed Tayab Agha was against the Murree peace process.
Tayab Agha, however, resigned after Mullah Akhtar Mansoor took over as head of the insurgent group following the confirmation of the death of Mullah Omar. Mansur then appointed Abbas Stanekzai to succeed Tayab Agha. Since Stanekazi is in favour of peace talks, his appointment was an indicator that now the Taliban's Qatar office will have a lead role in the peace talks. Pakistan is deeply interested in speedy resolution of the Afghan crisis. Unlike the previous round of talks, this time all Taliban groups are being pursued to come to the negotiating table. Taliban's splinter group, headed by Mullah Muhammad Rasool Akhund, has also been invited to join the negotiation process. Earlier, Akhund had refused to pledge allegiance to Mansoor after it was revealed that Mullah Omar's death had been kept hidden for nearly two years. Akhund formed his own faction, and leadership crisis led to fierce fighting among the two factions. Hundreds of fighters from both sides were killed; in January these two rival Taliban factions agreed for a truce - in a move that could help pave the way for consensus within the insurgent groups for direct peace talks with Afghan government.