Clouds over the peace process

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Im­tiaz Gul

SUNNY Kabul is abuzz with diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity. One the one hand, the Na­tional Unity Govern­ment (NUG) is striv­ing hard to get the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process go­ing with lots of be­hind-the-scenes con­tacts be­tween var­i­ous stake­hold­ers. On the other, im­me­di­ate neigh­bours such as Pak­istan, In­dia as well as other mem­bers of the Quadri­lat­eral Co­or­di­na­tion Group (QCG), have in­ten­si­fied their ef­forts for get­ting Tal­iban lead­ers on board. The visit of the Chief of the Peo­ples' Lib­er­a­tion Army, Gen­eral Fang Fenghui also un­der­scores the in­creas­ing Chi­nese in­ter­est in Afghanistan's peace.

The NUG it­self ap­pears op­ti­mistic about the peace process, hop­ing that soon- er than later, in­flu­en­tial Tal­iban, amenable to re­nounc­ing vi­o­lence, will step for­ward to join the talks in the larger in­ter­ests of the em­bat­tled coun­try.

But if the me­dia re­ports of the last few days were any guide, the intra-Afghan peace talks are up against mul­ti­ple in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal chal­lenges. There has been a surge in Tal­iban at­tacks - as many as 17 strikes across Pak­istan that have killed about 80 peo­ple since early Jan­uary, in­clud­ing mem­bers of Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces (ANSF) - along­side in­creas­ingly con­flict­ing views on the peace process within the Na­tional Unity Govern­ment - re­flected in the pro-Karzai and pro-Ghani camps.

The Karzai camp still looms large over the Afghan political scene; the for­mer pres­i­dent is revered by the ma­jor­ity as the 'Rah­bar' - supreme leader - and po­lit­i­cally, he is looked up to as a na­tional leader.

One dif­fi­culty comes from the 're­formed' Tal­iban lead­ers such as Mul­lah Zaeef, for­mer am­bas­sador to Pak­istan, Ab­dul Wa­keel Mut­tawakil, for­mer for­eign min­is­ter, Mulla Habib Fauzi, Said, Ak­bar Agha, Ab­dul Salam Raketi. Zaeef, who ab­hors Pak­istan for the treat­ment meted out to him af­ter the demise of Tal­iban regime, for in­stance, sits in Kabul, in­ter­acts with me­dia but has no kind words about the QCG ef­forts. His recipe for the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process is di­rect con­tacts be­tween Kabul and the Tal­iban's Do­har of­fice. He dis­trusts China, Pak­istan and the US for their 'vested in­ter­ests'.

An irony of this is that while th­ese Tal­iban lead­ers shunned the path of vi­o­lence, most of them re­main in po­lit­i­cally marginalised and dis­trusted.

An­other big political


is Pak­istan's im­age in Afghanistan; most peo­ple in Afghanistan still view Pak­istan with ex­treme scep­ti­cism for its 'lev­er­age' with the 'Quetta and Pe­shawar' shura. They be­lieve Pak­istan wields enough clout to de­liver, and even nue­tralise the Tal­iban in­sur­gency.

Pak­istan's im­age in the pub­lic is an­other po­ten­tial hur­dle. Dis­like of Pak­istan runs so deep that the ma­jor­ity of Afghans re­frain from men­tion­ing its name, even for the phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture such as hospi­tals or ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions in Kabul, Jalal­abad or Mazar. A num­ber of ini­tia­tives have been com­pleted with Pak­istani fund­ing but Afghan politi­cians and com­men­ta­tors choose not to men­tion this at all.

Pak­istan seems to be caught up in a Shakespe­rian dilemma of ' to do or not to do'. It is damned if it helps in per­suad­ing the Tal­iban to join the talks, and it is damned if it doesn't.

The Mur­ree talks sim­ply ex­posed Pak­istan's con­tacts with the Tal­iban, but the Afghan me­dia and politi­cians only used it to fur­ther ma­lign Is­lam­abad for this very fact. This should have helped in im­prov­ing the nar­ra­tive on Pak­istan but it worked to the con­trary - with the sys­tem­atic ex­clu­sion of its view­point from pub­lic discourse. Of­ten, com­ments sup­port­ive or sym­pa­thetic to Pak­istan are treated as sedi­tious.

Some ob­servers there­fore won­der if a key mem­ber of the QCG ma­ligned and os­tracised pub­licly, can re­ally be help­ful in the peace process. Quite ob­vi­ous that if the NUG and other im­por­tant stake­hold­ers mean well, the Afghan nar­ra­tive on Pak­istan can change.

Last but not least, ob­servers point out that the dis­unity within the NUG rep­re­sents an­other big chal­lenge. An edi­to­rial of in the Afghanistan Times on Fe­bru­ary 29, of­fered valu­able in­sight.

"The im­por­tant ques­tion which begs an an­swer is: how can the lead­ers ne­go­ti­ate and rec­on­cile with the Tal­iban when they can­not over­come in­ter­nal dif­fer­ences? Talk­ing to the mil­i­tant groups and con­vinc­ing them to re­nounce vi­o­lence is far too dif­fi­cult a task than set­tling in­ter­nal dis­putes", opined the pa­per.

The pa­per listed ram­pant cor­rup­tion, grow­ing in­se­cu­rity, cap­i­tal flight, wa­ter and en­ergy crises, food in­se­cu­rity dif­fer­ences among NUG lead­ers, and de­ser­tions in po­lice (36,000 in 2015), as some of the press­ing prob­lems the coun­try is fac­ing. All this of­fers lit­tle for the hyped-up peace process.

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