The QCG and peace
THE Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), comprising representatives from Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States, held its fourth meeting in Kabul on February 23, 2016 to consider the means restoring peace in Afghanistan. The QCG members have invited the Taliban and other warring groups to participate in the first round of direct peace talks with the Afghan government in Islamabad in the first week of March 2016.
The QCG has appreciated the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan in creating a joint group to work with the ulema of the two countries and garner support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. The QCG has thus laid the foundation for a dialogue between the two rival sides. We have to wait for the response of the Taliban to see whether this endeavour bears fruit.
The Taliban have not yet confirmed their participation because, according to their Qatar office, nobody from the Afghan government has approached them about talks and they have only heard about them through the media.
This is not the first time that efforts are being made for a peaceful resolution to the problems of Afghanistan. Earlier efforts did not result in peace in the country. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the efforts to bring about its end have not yet faded from memory. Efforts were made then as well to end the conflict at the negotiating table, but the US preferred to first settle its scores with the Soviets over its defeat in Vietnam using jihadis. In the process, it forgot that the Afghans have never accepted foreign occupation and that the Taliban are Afghan to the core. They fought the security forces of the US and its Nato allies tooth and nail for many years, forcing them to opt for a 'drawdown' - a phrase coined to avoid using the word 'retreat' and imply defeat.
At the same time, the US tried all possible means to subdue the Taliban and make them accept the system that it had installed in Kabul, but without any success. This reminds one of when the Geneva Accord was being hammered out and the real players, the mujahideen, were not included in the process. Thus, the accord fell short of bringing peace to Afghanistan and the country soon became a battleground for war lords. They established fiefdoms everywhere, making life miserable for the common Afghans, which paved the way for the Taliban uprising. It is a different matter that Taliban rule also fell short of expectations.
The press release issued after the QCG meeting called upon all groups to join the process of reconciliation. It also mentioned setting up a joint commission, so that Afghanistan and Pakistan could hold a conference of the ulema of the two countries to issue fatwas, as and when required. The idea of holding an ulema conference is nothing new. It was initially rejected during the visit of the former Afghan foreign minister to Islamabad in November 2012, when he was accompanied by the incumbent Foreign Minister, Salahudin Rabbani, who was heading the Afghan High Peace Council - a position he had taken over after the assassination of his father by the Taliban. The idea, however, did not take root for reasons best known to the two sides.
Convening an ulema conference has never been a difficult proposition. It can be held at any time, but for it to achieve the desired results, all decisions must be unanimous. It is also of prime importance that all sides be represented at such a conference. That brings us to the question of whether ulema from the Taliban side will also be present. They are the most important party in the conflict and they must be heard, otherwise they will be justified in not abiding by the decisions of others. The exclusion of the Taliban's ulema will only intensify the fighting beyond our expectations.
The Mazar-e-Sharif incident, when Abdul Malik assumed power in connivance with the Taliban in May 1997, is a case in point. Immediately after discussing the differences between the two sides, they ulema were involved to help resolve those differences. But despite their best efforts, they could not reach an amicable decision. As a result, each side started declaring the other to be in the wrong. The massacre that followed is well known. One can only hope that sim- ilar mistakes will not be repeated on this occasion.
The Afghans take the pronouncements of the clergy as sacrosanct; members of the QCG would be well advised to bear that in mind. The ulema conference is a serious matter and should be treated as such. It would be prudent to convene the conference only when a broad consensus on the political resolution of the problem has been achieved.
While addressing the opening session of the fourth QCG meeting in Kabul, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani reportedly said that the constitution does not stop anyone from joining the peace process and Afghanistan would welcome any group joining that process. But at the same time, he issued a strong message that the security forces of the government would act with full force against those rejecting peace.