Afghanistan has rarely been tidy or indeed at peace either with itself or its neighbours for most of the time it has existed as a state. It has been the victim of endless meddling by external forces and agencies for centuries, and in 2016 it once again finds itself mired in conflict, saddled with an unstable and ineffective government that was formed around an externally evolved model, and moving towards failed statehood. The Taliban insurgency is now in its 15th year and is currently on a roll, with a steady military advancement to bolster the already substantial gains it has made as a civilian administration, controlling in whole or part around 50 per cent of the country. The Quadrilateral Group which has the thankless task of crafting a cessation of violence if not peace has perhaps inevitably run into the sand; and on April 25, President Ashraf Ghani delivered what might be a mortal blow to it by saying that Kabul will no longer seek a role for Pakistan in the peace talks with the Taliban. The following day saw a robust rebuttal of President Ghani’s comments by the Pakistan Foreign Office.
Seemingly out of nowhere and on the same day that President Ghani was seeking to sideline Pakistan as a partner in peace brokerage, a three-man delegation from the Taliban arrived in Islamabad. The delegation comes from the Qatar office that the Taliban have set up, and is unlikely to be representative of the several groups currently fighting in Afghanistan, and almost certainly not representative of the Haqqani group with which Pakistan continues to maintain a somewhat opaque relationship. Afghanistan is of the view that the Haqqani network has its planning and logistics cells in Pakistan; and its actions are routinely condemned by Pakistan but there appears to be little by way of combating them or rolling back their presence.
All this has prompted the Americans to dust off the ‘Pakistan must do more’ mantra which chimes closely with the latest comments from President Ghani, who clearly has little confidence in Pakistan’s ability to positively influence any of the Taliban groups currently in play. The massive bombing in Kabul in the last week demonstrates just how weak is the grip of the government of President Ghani, and his assertion that the Afghan National Army is “doing better this year” is not borne out by ground realities. His words were relayed direct to the nation in a joint session of the Afghan parliament that was broadcast on all TV channels, public and private. He spoke of the Taliban leadership being based in Peshawar and Quetta saying that they were “slaves and enemies of Afghanistan who shed the blood of their countrymen” and called on Pakistan to wipe them out.
The implication was that the ‘slaves’ were in the ownership and control of Pakistan. He reiterated that there were no “good or bad” terrorists and that terrorists were bad — period — and Pakistan must “fulfill its promises”. Conversely, the Taliban describe the current government as being “slaves of the US” and that its members should suffer the same fate as Dr Najeeb who was publicly lynched in 1996.
The attempt to isolate Pakistan diplomatically is going to take nobody anywhere; and whether Afghanistan likes it or not, Pakistan is a part of the Afghan rebus. There may or may not be a meeting between elements of the Taliban and the Afghan government on April 27, but even if there is, no substantive changes or improvements may be expected. As each year arrives, it is said to be ‘a crux’ for Afghanistan, the year in which it is make or break, and each year passes with Afghanistan stumbling along with many of its people in abject misery, sick of war, sick of being pulled hither and thither and sick of the sticky fingers that poke and prod. It may be that 2016 really is a crux, but with four months gone the outlook is bleak.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2016.
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