Will Taliban finally come to talks?

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

Tahir Khan May 28, 2016
Maulvi Haibatullah. PHOTO: FILE

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

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

New Afghan Taliban leader vows no peace talks in audio recording

“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 spokesperson was responding to queries posted on his official WhatsApp to enquire 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 spokesperson insisted in his first official policy statement after the group appointed the successor of Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

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 it was Akhtar Mansour who had approved the first-ever Pakistan-brokered direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Afghan Taliban elect Mullah Mansour’s successor

Pakistani leaders also believe 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 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’s violation of their own pledges at the four-nation forum.

 

New Afghan Taliban leader was compromise candidate

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 have long been blaming Pakistan for “not honouring its promises” to encourage the Taliban to join the peace process. But the reality is that Washington and Kabul should take equal blame of destroying the peace process.

This was said by 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 publicised, first-ever, talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in July 2015.

New Taliban chief Akhundzada a scholar, not a soldier

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 could not 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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