There have been so many false starts to peace talks with the many factions of the Afghan Taliban that we have to treat with caution the reports that face-to-face talks have taken place in Murree. This is part — possibly — of a shadowy sequence that may have started in Urumqi, China, in May 2015. Those talks seemingly had the blessing of the Chinese — who are quietly emerging as a player in the many-faceted Afghan Game — and were, as were the most recent Murree talks, facilitated by Pakistan. All these developments in broad terms are good news — probably. However, not everybody is singing from the same songbook and the Afghan Taliban office in Qatar disavowed any involvement in the Urumqi talks and it remains unclear whether the Qatar office is engaged with the most recent moot. Equally unclear is the identity of the Taliban delegates. A second meeting is to be held “at a mutually convenient date after Ramazan”.
What is clear is that the process of talking, even if it just comprises talks about talks, is gaining traction. The Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister, Hekmat Khalil Karzai, is reportedly leading the Afghan delegation and — significantly — the Haqqani Network is said to be represented. Pakistan, rightly, has a major stake in the outcome of any peace process in Afghanistan, and the quality or otherwise of its own security environment in coming years may well hinge on the outcome(s) of any talks.
It is also appropriate that Pakistan plays a role as broker and facilitator, not least because this may act as a confidence-building measure, feeding into the recent thawing of relations between the two countries. It is important at this stage to expect little by way of transparency or results. This is an exceedingly complex and delicate task, and there is no quick fix. Fighting will continue as talks — hopefully — continue and there will be ‘border incidents’ as well. On top of that, there is an internal struggle within the Afghan Taliban and loyalties shifting in the direction of the Islamic State further complicate matters. That said, we wish these talks well.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2015.
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