Reports that Pakistan and China may be ready to become ‘guarantors’ of any peace deal between the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban have to be given a cautious welcome. This may be seen as part of a continuum in that Pakistan and China have been playing an active brokerage/facilitation role that is increasingly high-profile. The Murree talks were the first ever direct dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban; and the presence of the US and China at the talks is indicative of the importance accorded to them by the major powers. The next logical stage would be for the discussion around the position statements and requirements of both sides, and this is where the going gets tough.
Much hangs on the outcome of these talks, and if successful they could go a long way towards bringing peace and stability to the region, and Afghanistan specifically, after decades of war. Without going into specifics, Pakistan has said that it is willing to “go the extra mile” in its role as facilitator — but these are negotiations which have as much chance of failure as they do success, and there remains a considerable trust deficit between Pakistan and Afghanistan that is not going to disappear overnight.
There are factions certainly within Afghanistan and quite possibly in Pakistan as well that have no investment in success, indeed quite the opposite and would work hard to derail any peace process. India cannot be trusted to play a neutral hand, and it already has a very considerable stake in Afghanistan, both as a donor nation and as a behind-the-arras influence. The government of President Ashraf Ghani is facing severe criticism internally for its rapprochement with Pakistan, and ex-president Hamid Karzai hovers in the wings. The Afghan Taliban themselves are far from united, and it must be hoped that whoever from the Taliban side the governments of Pakistan and China are talking to, represent a significant proportion of those Taliban groups that are still fighting the Afghan government. Advance the process by all means, but be sure to leave no hostages to fortune.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2015.
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