Prospects for Afghan peace

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - K. Iqbal

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.

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