A golden opportunity for peace has emerged in Afghanistan in the wake of President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to recognise the Afghan Taliban as a political movement. The Afghan leader has also dangled before the group the possibility of calling fresh elections in the country and ordering a constitutional review. These are unconditional, confidence-building measures aimed at clinching a peace agreement. The offer is also meaningful because it expects that in order to be recognised as a legitimate political movement the Taliban would contribute to the peacemaking process. Although it has not been officially stated if the Taliban are somehow convinced of the importance and practicality of the talks offer they would play a critical role in making and building peace in Afghanistan.
In the past, President Ghani has been consistently calling the Taliban ‘terrorists’ and ‘rebels’. There are various reasons for Ghani to make such a lavish peace offer to the Taliban. The immediate and foremost reason which seems to have pushed the Afghan president is the Taliban’s favourable reaction to the groundbreaking of the strategic Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. The Afghan Taliban while welcoming the initiative, announced that they would not pose a threat to the pipeline as it is a project of national importance for Afghanistan. By quickly warming up to TAPI, the Taliban have shown that they are not an anti-development movement.
Moreover, President Ghani has extended an olive branch to the Taliban seemingly in response to the earlier surprise offer of dialogue by the Taliban to the US. The Taliban made the offer in an open letter addressed to the American public, stating that they preferred to resolve the conflict through peaceful dialogue and warned that the use of force alone would complicate the problem in Afghanistan.
The timing of the Taliban overture was profoundly significant. It came soon after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks, killing more than 100 people in Kabul. Staging large-scale deadly terrorist attacks and proposing talks by the Taliban simultaneously was contradictory. But large-scale terrorist attacks just before offering talks to Washington were aimed at raising their stakes in prospective peace negotiations. Interestingly, the huge terrorist attacks staged by the Taliban in January this year were made not long after Ashraf Ghani stated that without American support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) may not be able to defend the state and its system for more than a year. Through these attacks the Taliban wanted to further intimidate the Afghan authorities and demonstrate to the world that Ghani was right in expressing his powerlessness. As the Taliban knew about the US and its Western allies’ lack of commitment to defeating their insurgency, they wanted to exploit this situation to their advantage. They calculated that Washington and Kabul would be more pliant for dialogue following their fierce attacks. The Taliban strategy thus proved correct.
The Taliban talks offer was also forced by a sense of fear within the group. After January’s terrorist attacks in Kabul, President Donald Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had vowed punitive measures against the insurgents. President Ghani even went to the extent of saying that the Taliban would now be negotiated in the battlefield. After that the ANSF reportedly killed tens of Taliban fighters in operations in different parts of Afghanistan.
Both the aforementioned offers along with Pakistan putting its weight behind Ghani’s offer create a golden opportunity for peace in Afghanistan, which needs to be capitalised upon by the interlocutors of all the stakeholders.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2018.
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