The Taliban have called off the fourth round of talks with the United States to be held in Doha due to disagreements over the inclusion of Afghan officials in the talks, among other issues. The Taliban continue to refuse to talk to the Afghan government in Kabul, which they see as a “puppet” regime. Many regional players and stakeholders including the United States, India and Russia have been trying to convince the Taliban to shed this demand of theirs and talk to the Afghan government, but to no avail.
So far, only the Russians have been able to get the Taliban representatives and those of the Afghanistan’s High Peace Council to sit in the same room. While Taliban officials were sent to Moscow by the Doha office of the Taliban, the Afghan government sent members of the peace council “in its own capacity as a national but non-government institution”.
The Taliban held a meeting with the American officials in Abu Dhabi. A follow-up meeting was to be held in Riyadh. However, the Taliban have rejected that venue with the complaint that the Saudis were pressuring them to talk to the Afghan government. Saudi Arabia has been one of the only three countries that had recognised the Taliban government in 1996. That is the reason why the Taliban had accepted Riyadh to be a venue other than Doha, which is where their main office is. The venue was changed to Doha. However, the Qataris too pressured them to talk to the Afghan government, prompting the Taliban to opt out of that meeting as well. This reveals, among others, one reality quite vividly: the Indians have been working aggressively in the background.
India badly wants to strengthen the Afghan government. Kabul is their ally and after the American exit from there, the government in Kabul is their only hope of maintaining a presence in Afghanistan to continue its subversive activities against Pakistan. Every regional player is looking to buy some influence in the post-American departure Afghanistan. Interestingly, the Indian army chief, Bipin Rawat, says, “Yes, there should be talks with Taliban as long as they do not come out with any preconditions, and so long as they are looking at lasting peace in Afghanistan and bring stability in that country.” The word preconditions is tricky because it has been used by Rawat to spin the story.
He is referring to the unchanging demand of the Taliban that they wouldn’t talk to the Afghan government. This needs to be understood. The main demand of the Taliban from the day one has been for the occupation forces to leave Afghanistan. Now, the power to do that is only in the hands of the United States. President Ashraf Ghani is not going to order the US forces to leave. That is why they only want to talk to the country that has that kind of power instead of talking to the “puppet” regime.
The “precondition” story is true only in the other direction. The Taliban are not talking to the Afghan government as a “precondition” for peace talks. The Taliban are being pushed to talk to the Afghan government as a “precondition” for peace talks to go forward. So, Mr Rawat can sell his cheap propaganda elsewhere and accept the truth that the Taliban are not going to talk to their puppets in Kabul. Meanwhile the “puppet” regime also issued a statement after the Taliban cancelled the meeting. Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said, “The deal is a dream and will never happen”.
The Saudis, the Emiratis, and the Qataris enjoy good relations with the Taliban. If pragmatism is driving this peace engine to such an extent that America has to negotiate with the “terrorists”, then why bring an irritant in this and possibly derail the peace process? Which pill is bitterer to swallow: negotiating with the “terrorists” or minusing the “puppet” regime? Doesn’t take much guessing.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2019.