Afghan peace process
AFTER a much-hyped series of high-level meetings of Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), Afghan Taliban came with an expected rejection of peace talks last Saturday. The Murree Process was busted in the wake of Mullah Omar's death reports last year. The peace agenda was subsequently taken up by the quadrangular of Pakistan, Afghanistan, USA and China. It is rather surprising that despite having an institutional memory of more than six years of the process of peace talks, QCG failed to discuss anything but the roadmap of talks. The outright absence or at least nonappearance of substantive discussions on the framework of peace talks indicates the level of seriousness by all sides.
Traces of the peace process could be seen as early as 2006-7 germinating in posh hotels of holiday destinations like Maldives, midwifed by Germany and others. Down to 2010, everyone had started talking of the Maldives process, then London process and finally the Qatar process. The main preconditions set by Taliban have always been same as of their recent jibe to the peace talks. Complete withdrawal of foreign troops, removal of Taliban leaders' names from international blacklists and release of key Taliban detainees.
Before the fourth QCG in Kabul, Pakistan's Army Chief briefly met with the Emir of Qatar and would have, in all probability, made sure to urge the latter to convince the Qatar group - the ones not so friendly with Pakistan and her Taliban point man, Mullah Akhter Mansour - to be part of the process. Someone, somewhere seems to have missed working at home prior to this globetrotting. The factions at home got disgruntled after Pakistan's Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, uncovered their residential sites when he candidly admitted housing Taliban leadership in Pakistan and boasted 'some influence' on them.
More than a slip of tongue, it was clearly a carefully thought intimation. Using the international media, Pakistan had successfully transmitted the message to Taliban leadership for being careful in refusing to abide by Pakistan's terms for the framework of peace talks. Without any second thoughts, Taliban responded by altogether rejecting the entire process, resorting once again to their old posi- tion of the preconditions.
All eyes would once again be on Pakistan for trying its magic for resumption of peace process. An offcamera round of negotiations with the Taliban leadership residing somewhere in vast swathes of Pakistan's land from Kurram to Quetta, seems quite likely. Putting all eggs in one basket, however, is the last thing Pakistan should opt for at this point. Akhter Mansour is leading, don't forget, an ever-shrinking base of Taliban cadres. There are other actors within Taliban and some deepening fissures therein that need to be factored in while pursuing any given strategic option.
Other actors in or outside QCG must also review their own contribution to the problem. In Afghanistan conundrum, there are hardly any clean hands. While it is important, from the perspective of secular and progressive sections of Pakistani civil society to keep calling out anything that goes fowl on the part of Pakistan's own establishment, it is also important to not let that cloud our judgment about the games being played by everyone else.
Ever since the Bonn Agreement, the world community while claiming to be acting against Islamists and militants has been supervising anti-women and anti-minorities men occupying key government positions. For most of the men who they have been coalescing with, were from the Muj era devoid of any secular, progressive credentials. Just when the world was asking Pakistan to leash the Haqqanis and the Taliban, they were themselves reaching out to the latter with olive branch in hands.
Everyone starting from Ustad Rabbani to Sayyaf to Hekmatyar and even Dostum has either been part of the Administrations or in touch with them for reconciliation through last fifteen years. Many of them used to be with Taliban just a little while ago. Wonder how would a progressive (of any colour), could ever accept them as legitimate contender of power, that too on the charred bodies of women and minorities. Needless to mention that women, the primary stakeholders of peace process, have been kept outside any peace process so far. High Peace Council itself is not known to be women friendly in any manner. Any peace process, excluding women, lest we forget, would be absolutely farce and devoid of any credibility. Refrain.
On the other hand, Afghanistan itself doesn't offer much encouraging picture of enabling environment for any position of advantage at the negotiating table. A weak government born out of a fraudulent elections, having little capability to even appoint a full house of Cabinet, lacking any capacity of ensuring day-to-day governance for the people let alone much more complicated issues of security, is struggling to overcome fissures within. It should be clear by now that the Ghani-Abdullah unnatural alliance is not working.
Fragmented, unmotivated and poorly paid troops without leadership is another key issue that Afghanistan and her Western allies must urgently heed. Adopting an ISIS-like strategy, Taliban are consolidating themselves in the outskirts and rural Afghanistan in order to build their fiefdoms and bases. With foreign troops already into the tail end of the drawdown and international attention elsewhere in the world, Afghanistan is suffering and bleeding every moment at the hands of those fighting on behalf of the central leadership residing in our land. In all this mess, everyone seems to be missing what Taliban would bring if granted space in the polity.