Will Kabul’s talks with the Afghan Taliban succeed?

Use of force can help organise, hold meetings with Afghan Taliban but would not result in any long-lasting agreement

Rustam Shah Mohmand March 05, 2015
The writer has served as ambassador to Afghanistan and is a former interior secretary

Reports are circulating in the media about the imminent commencement of talks between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul either in Doha or some other location. The persistent stand of the Afghan Taliban since their government was overthrown in late 2001 by an alliance led by the US is that they would not enter into any dialogue with the regime in Kabul, which they termed to be a ‘puppet’ regime and one which has been installed by Western backers. Why should there be a change in this stance now when conditions look extremely favourable for the Afghan Taliban in the face of the withdrawal of most coalition forces? What would the Afghan Taliban gain by opening negotiations with a government which would not be able, by all accounts, to withstand a potential determined onslaught by the Taliban as 2016 approaches — the deadline the US has set for itself for complete withdrawal of all its forces? The year 2014 saw a rise of nearly 20 per cent in the number of attacks the resistance movement launched against the Afghan government and the coalition forces. As soon as the snow subsides, and the passes and gorges open up, there could be, in all likelihood, a surge in fighting. It is difficult to conclude that there would be a real, earnest desire in the ranks of the Afghan Taliban to engage in serious negotiations at a time when the odds are heavily in their favour. The other factor which is likely to influence the choice of many resistance leaders is the promptness shown by the new Afghan government in signing an agreement with the US. Former president Hamid Karzai had steadfastly refused to sign an accord with that country. What is then driving the resistance leaders into holding talks with the regime in Kabul?

It appears that there is tremendous pressure on the resistance leaders to sit with the Kabul government for negotiations because if they refuse to do so, there is danger that the government in Pakistan would ask many prominent leaders and their families to leave the country. Under such unbearable pressure, the movement’s leaders may choose to sit for talks with Kabul most reluctantly with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.

There are two problems here. One, is it wise to force the Afghan Taliban leaders into talks with Kabul when the outcome of such negotiations cannot be guaranteed and a failure can cause more mayhem, particularly when the road map for future government structures is not clearly laid down? And secondly, the US has still not clearly chalked out a policy on whether and under what conditions it would be prepared to make a complete exit from Afghanistan. More importantly, have we considered that such arm-twisting of the Afghan Taliban leaders could result in the evaporation of any goodwill that may still be found in Afghanistan for Pakistan’s approach or policies? Already the Pakistan government is pursuing a policy of forced repatriation of Afghan refugees, who are being victimised, persecuted and pushed back into a country where nearly 62 per cent of territory is held by the resistance movement and where an unabated insurgency takes a heavy toll on life on a daily basis. What goodwill, if any, would be left for Pakistan amongst those whom we allowed to stay for more than three decades? They will only remember the parting kick.

Seeking a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan should be a top priority for the government in Pakistan. Other than the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan is the principal stakeholder in the efforts to help bring the conflict to an end and restore normalcy to a war-ravaged country. But we must understand that the major factor fuelling the insurgency is the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. Only when this reality is acknowledged can Pakistan formulate and pursue a realistic policy to end the fighting in Afghanistan.

Since the major bottleneck to peace is the presence of foreign troops, the issue of their complete withdrawal within a stipulated time period assumes critical importance. Pakistan should be aiming at persuading the US to consider an appropriate time frame for the withdrawal of its forces. This would in turn depend on whether the various Afghan groups, including the resistance groups, can come to an understanding on how to manage and run the country in the event of complete evacuation of foreign troops. If the US agrees to a short time frame within which all its forces would leave the country and hand over military bases to Kabul, the resistance would, in all likelihood, agree to be incorporated in Afghan government institutions — even if certain minor amendments to the country’s Constitution are made with mutual consent of all parties. Afghanistan’s Constitution, its parliament and other institutions are sacrosanct but the country’s unity and integrity as well as peace should be considered equally sacrosanct.

Such lofty objectives can only be accomplished through the willing cooperation of all parties, motivated and driven by the desire to bring peace and normalcy to Afghanistan. This cannot be achieved through pressuring various groups. The use of force can help in organising and holding meetings but would not result in any agreement that would be long-lasting and which reflects the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan. Pakistan must realise that the Afghan conflict is about very deep issues. It is about Afghanistan’s sovereignty and freeing the country from foreign interference and the presence of foreign troops. This conflict is about establishing a country where the mandate reflects the aspirations of its people.

There is a deep yearning for peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan must use its leverage to promote and advance the cause of genuine peace which could then foster stability in the region. Having committed many errors of judgment in the past, there is no room for further miscalculations. Forced talks would add another ominous dimension to the treatment meted out to helpless Afghans and expand the saga of failures that stems from poor knowledge of Afghanistan and the psyche of its people.

Published in The Express Tribune, March  6th,  2015.

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IBN E ASHFAQUE | 9 years ago | Reply The US will not go out of Afghanistan. The Pakistani army cannot prevail over US. The Afghan Taliban as they control 2/3 of Afghanistan cannot be arm twisted by Pak Army to come to the negotiating table. The Peshawar school incident is the reaction of the TTP. Most likely TTP will be neutralised, while the war in Afghanistan will continue for another five to ten years. The US will withdraw most likely unconditionally and the present Afghan setup will crumble as they cannot survive without western funding. The taliban of 2015 are not of the same material as in 2001. I fear the concept of strategic depth is currently being utilised by the Afghan taliban vis-a-vis Pakistan. It will be better that the Indian establishment also accepts an Afghanistan run by the taliban.
Muhammad Osman Khan | 9 years ago | Reply @Truth: First let's clarify a few things: APS massacre was carried out by Pak Taliban splinter group; Afghan Taliban condemned the attack http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/12/16/pakistan-school-afghan-idINKBN0JU2BS20141216 Secondly, calling it resistance is absolutely the right word; even the US has refused to call the Afghan taliban terrorists http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/taliban-terrorists-white-house/story?id=28588120 the gist of what the author has written is correct; Arm twisting wont work- it never has with the Afghan and never will
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