Afghanistan's fog of talks
POLITICO-MILITARY situation in Afghanistan is quite complex. As regards military balance of power, James R Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, recently warned that fighting in Afghanistan will be "more intense" this year than 2015 and that Afghans will continue to face "sustained attacks" by the Taliban in 2016. According to the Pentagon, the Taliban is capable of contesting and taking key terrains in Afghanistan and it poses a "formidable" and "enduring" challenge to the Afghan national unity government.
On the political side, President Ashraf Ghani is not taking any bold initiatives, his outreach to Taliban factions is limited to small entities having little military capacity. Militarily significant Taliban outfits continue to reject calls for any possible end to the war. Peace is preconditioned by them with full withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Taliban are able to carry out high-profile attacks in all parts of the country, more than ever before; such ground realities make it hard for the Afghan people to swallow the idea that US troops are present to continue the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Growing strength of the Taliban and the failure of US military strategies to counter their attacks supports the notion that there could be no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. Over the past 15 years. No lessons have been learnt by the Afghan-US side; and there is insistence on repeating the mistakes.
War in Afghanistan is a creation and, therefore, Afghans are urging an end to a needless war. The Taliban's growing military might is posing a thorny strategic question for President Barack Obama: Either Keep the stringent rules limiting the numbers of strikes in place and risk seeing the militants continue to gain ground, or allow American pilots to bomb a broader array of targets at the risk of deepening Washington's combat role in Afghanistan; and as a result, further diminish the chances of any progress in the evasive peace process.
Pakistan has consistently been advocating to end the decades long war and sufferings endured by the Afghan people. Peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan's vital interest. A promising beginning had been made to foster a negotiating process for peace talks in the last couple of months. Positive momentum was generated by the successful meeting of the Heart of Asia process hosted by Islamabad and jointly inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani. This led to the decision by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China to create a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to provide decisive impetus to Afghanistan's peace efforts.
Task ahead for QCG is complex and arduous and prudence demands that expectations be kept realistic and strategic patience should be exercised. It is essential now to create an enabling environment to operationalize and sustain a peace process that is, at least notionally, Afghan-led. A number of factors are critical to establishing such an environment. There should be consistent and unified positions and declarations from the Afghan government affirming its commitment to work for a negotiated peace. In this regard recent statements by the Afghan leadership and the revamping of the High Peace Council are steps in the right direction. Also, there must be a demonstrated capacity by the Afghan security forces to hold territory on their own. This would help create conditions for the Taliban to return to the negotiating table. And, all four members of the QCG must use their respective influence and political capital to contribute to the success of the process.
Limitation of Pakistan's influence was exposed recently. Reportedly, Pakistani officials threatened to expel Afghanistan's Taliban from bases in Pakistan if they did not join peace talks, but the militants rebuffed the notion. Taliban have won new zones of influence and control from Afghan security forces. They no longer need their Pakistan bases in the same way as they did in 2014 and before, so if Pakistan threatens to expel them, it does not have the same effect. Taliban's Supreme Council has voted to reject the talks scheduled for March. Taliban are now pouring into potential combat zones for what they say will be a fierce spring offensive to be launched soon.
Earlier, on March 07, the US renewed its appeal to the Taliban to join peace talks and said Afghan and the US forces would have to prepare themselves for the prospect of increased violence in the spring and summer if the insurgent group did not agree to negotiations. Taliban leadership responded by asking its fighters to hide in the mountains to avoid any losses due to stepped-up American bombing. State Department spokesman John Kirby has said that the United States backed a call by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the Taliban to join talks with the Kabul government.