Involving stakeholders key to Afghan peace talks
The recent talks between the United States and the Taliban, the first of its kind, in Qatar broke many a stalemate. But the Taliban has intensified their attacks against the Afghan government in total disregard to the outcome of the talks.
The first ever talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban were held on July 7, 2015, in Murree near Islamabad under the supervision of US, Pakistani and Chinese representatives. However, no progress has been made.
To persuade the Taliban to agree to the second round of peace talks with the Afghan government, which were stalled after Taliban leader Mullah Omar's death, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US was established in December 2015. But it could not break the stalemate. Worse, the QCG suffered a blow owing to the mistrust between Pakistan and the US after US drones targeted Omar's successor Mullah Mansour in Baluchistan, Pakistan, which Islamabad said was a violation of its territorial integrity.
But even if the Taliban attend the peace talks, it does not necessarily mean they will eschew violence, because despite agreeing to negotiations, the Taliban have intensified their attacks against the Afghan government, indicating they never come to the table with bona fide intentions. Which means the Taliban consider the peace process as a political game, and use it to push their own agenda forward. For instance a handful of the Taliban prisoners were released from Afghan prisons based on an agreement but they returned to the "battlefields". The Taliban also assassinated Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghan High Peace Council, in 2011.
The recent talks between the US and the Taliban representatives are unlikely to yield results for two reasons: First, one-on-one talks cannot be productive when it comes to the US and the Taliban. The stakeholders and Afghanistan's allies will have to support an Afghanistan-led peace process, and the parties have to stop downplaying the role of Afghanistan's neighbors in this regard. The fact is that Pakistan and China carry much more weight in peace negotiations and their absence, as well as that of Afghanistan, from the US-Taliban talks in Qatar was strongly felt. Russia, too, seeks to play a role in the process.
Second, peace talks have split the Taliban in the past and some of their leaders who pursued talks have been assassinated. With this in mind, a peace agreement between "Qatari Taliban" and the US, if it ever happens, will divide the Taliban into factions.
Rejecting Kabul's olive branch, radical Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah has constantly followed the policy of hit-and-run to consolidate his power, especially among those mercenaries who only know how to pull the trigger. Thus the talks have failed to yield a unanimous nod, let alone an agreement, from the Taliban leadership.
To bring the Taliban to the table, all stakeholders have to play a constructive role without downplaying one another. As such, Afghanistan's allies and regional powers, including China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia, should form a multilateral peace council to resolve the conflict through negotiations.
Political rivalries between regional powers have prevented the formation of a council to restore peace in Afghanistan. And the blame game between Kabul and Islamabad, combined with the trust deficit between the US and Russia, and the US and Iran, has prompted them to pursue talks on their own, which has led to nowhere.
However, the tense relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have eased thanks to China's efforts such as the hosting of the first China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Dialogue on Dec 26, 2017, to strengthen mutual trust between Kabul and Islamabad.
Nonetheless, relations between Iran and Russia on the one hand and the US on the other have worsened after the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran and due to volatile relations between Washington and Moscow. In such a case, not only Afghanistan's security but also regional security faces a threat.
Despite the ongoing peace process and frequent peace offers by the Afghan government to the Taliban, insurgency has not subsided, and the strong sense of fear and disappointment across Afghanistan has left little room for talks. Therefore, Afghanistan and its international allies must strike a strong military deal to counter the Taliban if the latter resist returning to the negotiation table.
The author is a columnist for Daily Outlook, an independent newspaper in Afghanistan.