Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, December 13th, 2018

Peace Negotiation – An Endless Game

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Peace Negotiation – An Endless Game

The Taliban guerilla fighters continued insurgency in Afghanistan despite being toppled by the US invasion in 2001. The disintegration of their regime could not stop militancy in the country and the strategy for combating terrorism was unproductive.
The “war on terror” failed to bear the desired result and the military mission of US soldiers was reduced to advisory role in December 2014, when the bulk of foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan. This indicated that military action could not diminish militancy in the country.
To mitigate insurgency, both Kabul and Washington sought to bring the Taliban to negotiating table via Islamabad, which was believed to carry much weight in this regard. Meanwhile, Pakistani officials promised to use their “leverage” with a view to persuading the Taliban outfit to hold negotiations with Afghan government. Sartaj Aziz, advisor on foreign affairs to Pakistan’s prime minister said, “We have some influence on them[Taliban] because their leadership is in Pakistan, and they get some medical facilities, their families are here. So we can use those levers to pressurize them to say, ‘come to the table’”.
The inconsistency in the US strategy in terms of combating terrorism and Islamabad’s pressure on the Taliban elements brought them to peace table. Pakistan hosted the first round of face-to-face talks between the Taliban and Afghan government – which was attended by the US and Chinese observers – in the resort town of Murree, adjacent to Islamabad, on 7 July 2015.The Murree talks ended with an agreement to reconvene in August of the same year. Nonetheless, the second round of talks was derailed with the revelation of Mullah Muhammad Omar’s death who reportedly died in a Karachi hospital in 2013.
Subsequent to Omar’s death, Mullah Muhammad Akhtar Mansour was appointed as the Taliban’s leader. Mansour held out against peace negotiation and called it as “enemy propaganda”.
To break the stalemate, the first meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan-United States-China Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) was held in Islamabad on 11 January 2016. Kabul government recognized the Mansour-led Taliban faction as the group’s “legitimate interlocutor” and called it to join peace process. Pakistani’s former COAS General Raheel Sharif traveled to Qatar, where Taliban’s political office is located, to persuade the Taliban to participate in the QCG-backed talks. However, all this was proved abortive and Mansour orchestrated deadly attacks against Kabul government – including the attack on 19 April 2016in Kabul which killed 64 people and wounded 347. Being considered an obstacle before peace talks, Mansour was killed by the US drone strike on Pakistani soil on 21 May 2016. This enraged Pakistani officials who called it violation of territorial integrity and stalled the quartet after conducting five meetings.
With Mullah HaibatullahAkhundzada at the helm, the Taliban took an oath of revenge and carried out high-profile attacks against Kabul government. The recent spate of attacks in Kabul – which was referred to as Afghanistan’s September 11 by President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani – was a strong blow to peace talks. Following the deadly attack on January 27 near Jamhuriat Hospital in Kabul, which killed and wounded hundreds of people, the US President Donald Trump denied pursuing negotiation with the Taliban and pledged to intensify attacks against them in the current year.
The recent spate of attacks in the heart of Afghanistan also renewed the blame game between Kabul and Islamabad as Afghan officials claimed that the attacks were organized across the border. Afghan government has frequently doubted Pakistan’s bona fide intention to broker peace talks and accused her of harboring the Taliban militants, which was denied by Islamabad. On the other hand, Pakistani officials believed that the revelation of Mullah Omar’s death by the Afghan intelligence agency, NDS, and Mansour’s death by the US drone strike were deliberate attempts to undermine Pakistani-brokered peace efforts in critical times. Thus, the ebb and flow of the blame game left a gap between the two neighboring countries and there seems no strong will for a joint cooperation since the promises for supporting shared interests did not go beyond words.
To win the war on terror, the Trump’s administration, along with Kabul government, seeks to reinforce attacks against the Taliban and their hideouts and increases the number of troops in Afghanistan. In short, military action is considered the last resort to reduce insurgency in the country.
Nevertheless, the regional stakeholders are of the belief that military deal will not tackle the unmitigated insurgency urging Afghanistan and its international allies not to turn their backs on peace talks. But the decade-long futile attempts to hold talks with the Taliban narrowed the chance for parley. If the Taliban were willing to come to peace table, they would decrease militancy, which is a preliminary precondition for talks.

Hujjatullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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