Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, September 24th, 2021

Regional Consensus Likely to Break Deadlock in Negotiations

Although the United State and the Taliban leadership signed peace agreement on February 29, 2020 in Qatar, Doha’s capital, the Taliban group has so far refused to declare a permanent ceasefire or reduce violence. The intra-Afghan dialogue reached stalemate and the US and its NATO allies are withdrawing their troops, but the group escalated its insurgency, establishing itself as a legitimate stakeholder in Afghanistan. 
The Afghan administration has constantly reiterated the significant role of regional players, mainly that of Pakistan, in the peace process and urged Islamabad to use its leverage on the Taliban leadership. On their turn, Pakistani officials have made promise on multiple occasions to support the peace talks but without managing to fulfill it. As of now, Islamabad says that its leverage on the Taliban has diminished, but Kabul doubts the goodwill of Islamabad since Taliban’s leadership councils are based in Quetta and Peshawar, Pakistan, and the Taliban’s patients and the wounded are treated in Pakistan’s hospitals, according to Afghan officials. 
Recently, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has confirmed that the wounded and dead bodies of the Taliban militants are carried to Pakistan and the wounded receive medical treatment there. He added that the families of the Afghan Taliban live in Pakistan.
Ahmad also urged the Taliban to restrain the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In the past, Islamabad adopted a “good” and “bad” Taliban policy and approved the Afghan Taliban but believed the TTP was working against the Pakistan’s interests. However, Islamabad’s recent indications suggest that both the Afghan Taliban and TTP share the same ideology.
Such a categorization was not acceptable to Kabul, which insists that the Taliban, based on the Doha agreement, have to break their ties with all regional and global terrorist networks – including the TTP, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkestan Islamic Movement, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State-Khorasan. In reaction to Ahmad’s remarks, Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar said that the TTP was neither founded in Afghanistan nor operating on its soil.
The Taliban group, on the one hand, says that it is prepared to resume the talks and could not win through military deal, on the other hand, it is widely engaged in mounting insurgency. The Taliban’s contradictory remarks indicate that the group is playing a foul game at the negotiating table without having genuine intention. But its recent signal for resumption of peace talks is likely to be the result of public hatred and mobilization against the group.
Unlike the 1990s, the Taliban do not intend to be treated as international pariah or form a government in isolation without global recognition. Regional and global stakeholders, including Pakistan, have made it clear that they will not support formation of “Islamic Emirate” as the 1990s and will not recognize any government in Afghanistan that is not acceptable to the people. Public participation in political decision making and future political structure carries increasing weight for the region and beyond. Conscious of the challenges in achieving an outright military victory, the Taliban have signaled to return to the negotiating table and revealed they have been working on a written peace proposal to be shared with the Kabul administration in the coming months.
The US’ decision to withdraw all its troops from the country has forced many regional actors to review their assumptions, priorities and strategies regarding Afghanistan. Some like Iran and Russia, apprehensive to prevent the export of Taliban influence beyond the borders of Afghanistan, are seeking to buy off the Taliban leadership with promises of assistance and strengthen ties with it. To preserve its two decades old investment in a democratic constitutional framework in Afghanistan, India, which has entered a backchannel communication with the Taliban leadership, needs to bandwagon other regional players in dealing with the Taliban as the “government-in-waiting” or bid farewell to its mission in Afghanistan.
Recently, Iran has hosted Taliban delegations aimed at breaking the peace stalemate and persuading the Taliban to return to the table. India is also seeking more active and constructive engagement in the Afghan peace process. Kabul, which has long called for regional and global consensus on the process, will welcome the role of the region and neighboring states in brokering a political settlement.
Understanding the Afghan-Pak soured relations, the International Crisis Group said in a recent briefing, “Islamabad should reach out to Kabul to reduce mistrust. Using the access and leverage provided by the Taliban leadership’s sanctuaries on its territory, Pakistan should press the insurgents to reduce violence and negotiate a compromise on power-sharing arrangements with other Afghan stakeholders.”
Formation of regional consensus on Afghan peace process is most likely to break the deadlock. Therefore, regional stakeholders have to withdraw their support from the Taliban group and use their leverage on it. Kabul expects the region and its international allies to engage constructively in the intra-Afghan dialogue.