Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, September 23rd, 2019

Can Pakistan Meeting Broker Talks between Taliban and Afghan Government?

Peace talks are being debated hotly amidst the escalated militancy and Afghanistan’s tit-for-tat policy. The Afghan government has intensified its offensive attacks against the Taliban militants to put pressure on their leadership to come to the negotiating table with the government.
Moreover, the Kabul government has urged regional stakeholders to play their role in Kabul’s de-marginalization in the peace talks. Pakistan is a heavyweight stakeholder in Afghanistan’s peace process and urged to put its weight behind the intra-Afghan dialogue.
A number of Afghan political figures, including the leader of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, and second deputy CEO Mohammad Mohaqeq, have reportedly traveled to Pakistan to attend a meeting, with the presence of some Taliban members. At least 30 senior Afghan leaders are said to be invited in the meeting.
The participants of the meeting had a dialogue with the Taliban earlier this month in Moscow, but it had no impact on Afghanistan’s security situation and the Taliban turned down the demand of their interlocutors for declaring “ceasefire”.
The Pakistan meeting, in which head of Afghan High Peace Council Mohamad Karim Khalili has also attended, is likely to bridge the mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad.
It should be noted that the Pakistan meeting is of the same nature to that of Russia. If the meeting yields a positive outcome rather than empty talks, Afghan politicians and ordinary people will change their attitude towards Islamabad and the space for optimism will be expanded. Hence, the ball is in Pakistan’s court to prove its genuine intention for Afghanistan’s peace process through using its leverage to bring the Kabul government and Taliban leaders to peace table. But if this meeting ends up with no tangible result, it will be construed as giving legitimacy to the Taliban’s leadership and no different to the Moscow meeting.
The participation of Gulbuddin Hekmtayar, who has a strong bond with Pakistan, in the meeting will be significant. The Afghan government signed a peace agreement with Hekmatyar in September 2016 and pardoned him for his involvement in deadly incidents and terrorist activities. Subsequently, the UN removed his name from the sanctions on 3 February 2017 as a result of Afghanistan’s demand. Meanwhile, the HIA vowed to respect the Afghan Constitution in exchange for the government recognition of the group and support for the removal of United Nations and American sanctions against Hekmatyar.
Since then, Hekmatyar, who runs for presidency, has been calling on the Taliban to stop the conflict and join peace process. However, the Taliban turned a deaf ear to his call and continued their insurgency. Now Hekmatayr is calling the Taliban face-to-face to stop their terrorist activities and agree to power-sharing similar to himself.
But the Taliban still puts the legitimacy of the Afghan government under question as did Hekmatyar before peace agreement.
Pakistan hosts the meeting days before President Ghani’s official visit to Islamabad. Ghani is going to travel to Islamabad in late June and exchange view on peace talks and Kabul-Islamabad mutual cooperation with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. His trip is aimed at creating mutual trust and strengthening relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Despite the fact that peace talks heat up, the conflict between warring sides has been escalated. As the Taliban declared their spring offensive and turned down the demand of people’s representatives in Loya Jirga, Grand Assembly, for declaring truce and holding intra-Afghan dialogue, the Afghan government continues its tit-for-tat policy. Both warring sides sustain heavy casualties on daily basis, but Afghan civilians bear the brunt of casualties as the Taliban carry out indiscriminate attacks and suicide bombings. For instance, a large number of Afghan civilians were killed during the Ramadan, the holy month of Muslims, as a result of the Taliban’s attacks.
It is believed that the war-war and talk-talk policy will not lead to peace or stability in Afghanistan. The Taliban have to observe the rule of talks and hold dialogue with the Afghan government, against which they are fighting, and mitigate their insurgency.
If the Taliban continue their relentless attacks despite the ongoing talks, Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, notably Pakistan, and regional and global actors have to put pressure on the Taliban to hold talks with the Kabul government with bona fide intention rather than seeking one-sided concessions. Afghan officials and political experts are of the view that Pakistan are able to nudge the Taliban to the table with the Afghan government. Brokering peace talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government is likely to be a big step towards peace.