With a new leader, will Taliban finally come to talks?

Published: May 28, 2016
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Pakistan says drone strike detrimental to its sovereignty and overall peace process.

Pakistan says drone strike detrimental to its sovereignty and overall peace process.

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban have ruled out changes in policies under their new leader, Maulvi Haibatullah Akhundzada, debating whether he would agree to join the peace process contrary to his predecessor.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid says that changes in the Taliban leadership do not mean policies of the movement will alter.

“Policies of the Islamic Emirate are not attached with personalities. Our policies are formulated collectively by the leadership council and religious scholars; not by an individual,” Mujahid told The Express Tribune on Friday.

The Taliban spokesman was responding to queries posted on his official WhatsApp to inquire whether the militant group would relax its stance on the proposed political dialogue.

“We have the same stance about peace negotiations as we had in the past,” the Talban spokesman insisted in his first official policy statement after the group appointed the successor of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor.

Besides other charges, senior US officials have claimed the slain Taliban leader was also an obstacle in the way of political dialogue. However, Pakistan has strongly disagreed with this perception. Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan reminded US that it was Akhtar Mansoor who had approved the first ever Pakistan-brokered direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Pakistani leaders also believe that the US strike was contrary to its own understanding which was developed during a series of meetings of the quartet on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

When missiles rained

US aircraft rained missiles into Pakistani soil to kill the Taliban leader just three days after the Washington’s special representative to Afghanistan and ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson joined top diplomats from Afghanistan.

China and Pakistan have also reiterated that violence serves no purpose and peace negotiations remain the only option for a settlement.

With the drone attack that Pakistan has condemned as “unjustified, unacceptable and a violation of its sovereignty”, the US itself has discredited the Quadrilateral Coordination Group or QCG. Earlier, the Taliban and the Afghan government also undermined the process when the former publicly refused to take part in peace talks during March and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani shut the door on talks with the militant outfit in his parliamentary speech on April 25.

Taliban are not a party to the QCG, but there are many unanswered questions over Washington and Kabul violation of their own pledges at the four-nation forum.

The Obama administration will be unable to explain its logic of killing the Taliban leader just three days after its own special Pak-Afghan envoy agreed, with other members of the quartet, to “use their respective leverages and influences” to push for peace negotiations.

It is widely believed that Pakistan’s angry reaction to the drone attack is logical as it would now be very difficult, or impossible, to encourage the Taliban to come to the negotiation table.

Shared responsibility

The US and Afghan leaders has long been blaming Pakistan for “not honouring its promises” to encourage the Taliban join the peace process. But the reality Washington and Kabul should take direct equal blame of destroying the peace process.

This was the Pakistan PM’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz when he spoke at a news conference in Islamabad on Thursday.

“In less than a year, the peace process has been scuttled twice,” Aziz said in reference to the US drone attack over the weekend and the deadlock in the much publicized, first ever, talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in July 2015.

There is no doubt Pakistan will have some weaknesses in its Afghan policy and it needs a review, but its approach to focus on political process is based on rationale as the military might of nearly 50 countries, under US command cannot resolve the issue over the past 15 years.

Some Afghan leaders and certain elements in Afghanistan, who are averse to the peace process, would be upbeat over Akhtar Mansour’s death. However, such perceptions will be seen as naïve as it has further complicated the peace process.

Every recent survey and reports, including some conducted by the UN and US about the situation in Afghanistan, suggest Taliban are much stronger and have more areas under their control than before.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2016.

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