The QCG and peace

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Ayaz Wazir

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.

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