Countries to negotiate for Afghan peace process in mid-January

Talks must not be deterred by anti-peace elements

Tahir Khan January 01, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will witness a flurry of diplomatic activities in the coming days to explore options and bring the Afghan peace process back on track. The important aspect of the recently launched four-nation mechanism is that senior US and Chinese diplomats would join Pakistani and Afghan officials in the key consultations.

The foreign ministry says the first meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Committee is scheduled to be held in Islamabad in the second week of January.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday this meeting will be held in Kabul. The process provides opportunity to all stakeholders to ward off the much-anticipated and traditional Taliban “Spring Offensive” they routinely launch either in late March or April.

The Afghan government and its NATO allies will have to unveil their plans and take confidence-building measures to encourage Taliban to decrease violence.

The second round of the Pakistan-brokered talks between the representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban was scheduled to discuss measures to reduce violence. However, the rare peace negotiations were scuttled after the Afghan intelligence agency revealed the death of the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar in late July.

A better sense prevails in Kabul following the visit to Islamabad by President Ashraf Ghani in December 2015 that in fact paved the way for four-nation initiative. The process is in line with Pakistan’s repeated calls that peace in Afghanistan is a shared responsibility of everyone. However, all major players are in agreement that the peace process should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

Although the US and China had been part of the “Murree Process” as observer, their active involvement will ensure the smooth function of the quadrilateral process.

The role of US is the most crucial as it will now have a political role rather than pursuing military option. Former president Hamid Karzai had always complained that the US had never helped him establish peace with the Taliban. The involvement of US in the political process could encourage the Taliban leadership to join the process as some issues are directly related to the US like a timeframe to end the invasion, removal of the Taliban leaders from the UN sanction lists and release of some of the Taliban leaders still under the US custody.

The role of China has similar importance as the Taliban would not oppose its role because it has never involved militarily in Afghanistan. China had also hosted a meeting between senior Taliban leaders and a top Afghan government negotiator Masoom Stanekazi in its Urumqi city last year in February. The Chinese special envoy for Afghanistan, Deng Xijun, in an early interview with The Express Tribune had offered venue for the Taliban-Kabul talks if all sides agreed. He had, however, ruled out any mediation and insisted Afghans should take the process forward.

Afghanistan is also upbeat at the quadrilateral mechanism as the stakeholders have also agreed on action against the irreconcilable Taliban.

Ghani mentioned the understanding at a news conference in Kabul on Thursday. “We have agreed [in quadrilateral meeting to use] legitimate force against the groups who oppose peace. Practical measures, specific mechanisms are part of the four-nation negotiations,” Ghani said.

The Afghan president also hailed the recent visit to Kabul by the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, during which both sides renewed their pledges against those who will refuse to join the peace negotiations.

The Taliban leaders have not yet officially responded to the quadrilateral approach. However, senior Taliban leaders in a series of contacts insist they are not “opposed to the political process but the Kabul administration will have to unveil its strategy if it is interested in peace.”

Taliban sources privy to the political office in Qatar claim that Afghan rulers are “deeply divided” about reconciliation process as some senior leaders like the first vice-president General Abdul Rashid Dostam and the presidential adviser, Ahmad Wali Masoud, have publicly opposed talks with the Taliban.  On Friday, a popular French restaurant was targeted in Kabul city just days after a Taliban suicide bombing killed at least one civilian and injured over 30 near the airport. Detractors would remain active to destroy the possible peace process, but this must not deter leaders from peace talks.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2016.


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