Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Doha Talks: Effective Counterterrorism Measures Needed

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Doha Talks: Effective Counterterrorism  Measures Needed

On March 12 in the evening US Special Representative Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad broke the much awaited news in his tweet that marathon round of talks with Taliban in Doha which continued for 16 days resulted in advancement of peace process from ‘agreed in principle’ in January 2019 to ‘agreed in draft’ now. The talks are focusing on four issues of peace, which are: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire. The parties agreed in draft on the first two elements. After finalization of this, the Taliban and other Afghans, including the government will begin intra-Afghan negotiations on a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire. This is the first time after talks ended, the US head of negotiating team, Amb. Khalilzad did not come to Kabul to brief President Ghani, but headed straight to Washington for discussion and then he may plan to consult other partners.
Keeping in view ground realities, Afghan problem is not only a domestic political problem but has many multifaceted dimensions including regional stakeholders and illicit economy, to mention a few. No doubt, domestic political issues are the roots for other dimensions. Even in Afghanistan, all attacks are not attributed to the Taliban. Many of them are planned, organized and executed by terrorist organizations including ISIS and massive drug syndicates aligned to local armed factions.
In a candid discussion with Upendra Baghel, a researcher on Afghanistan and regional security, he expresses that any unilateral action by US may not be able to bring everlasting peace in the country unless it engages other partners. He opined that most of the stakeholders, who have interest in Afghanistan, also have their own internal, contentious issues such as India vs. Pakistan, Pakistan vs. Iran, US vs. Iran, Qatar vs. KSA, intermittent insurgency in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and also historical engagements of UK and Russia in the region. United States is aware of these complexities. These issues converted Afghanistan as a theatre of ‘Great Game’. On account of these, the Taliban could maneuver their sustainable tactics within Afghanistan without interfering in domestic affairs of these countries. They repeated on many occasions that their war was limited to only Afghanistan. Mr. Baghel said that the Taliban insisted on withdrawal of US led western forces and repeatedly targeted them including their establishments in Afghanistan. There are also instances when diplomatic establishments of Iran, UAE and India were attacked.
The US is negotiating with the Taliban on effective counterterrorism measures. No counterterrorism measure can be foolproof in a multi polar and divisive world and in the absence of common rationale. The Taliban’s capability of deception, maneuvering and penetrating into the security layers cannot be underestimated. Recent revelation about the death of Taliban Leader Mullah Omar in a book ‘Searching For An Enemy’, the truthfulness of which Afghanistan refuted, shows their capability of deception. The Dutch journalist and writer Bette Dam finds in her research that Omar took shelter in Afghanistan villages, near the installations of US defense forces till he died on 23 April 2013 and even in spite of his peculiar ‘one eyed’ feature neither Afghanistan and nor US could locate. The Taliban confirmed Omar’s death in 2015 after Afghan intelligence revealed that the militant leader had died in a hospital in Pakistan. They have been successful in launching attacks at high security installations, which shows their penetration capability and sustaining insurgency with sizeable gains is the testament of their maneuvering. Off late, internationalism is also fading away and more and more rightist political parties are occupying space in domestic politics of many countries.  
US interests on counterterrorism may not be converging with the interest of Pakistan, India, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and other countries and that’s why US should look beyond their own interests with primacy to its own. Even in the approach to peace talks, Afghanistan seems to differ with Amb. Khalilzad. Afghanistan affirmed its commitment to hold presidential election and stated that ‘peace goes hand in hand with elections’. The Government seems to have fully geared up for the election, and it is not on agenda of ongoing peace talks in Doha. According to Afghanistan, it is for the Talban to prove their commitment for peace, which they have failed so far. On the other hand, the Taliban are still hesitant to talk face to face with the Government. There is deep mistrust between the Government and the Taliban and bringing them for direct peace talks needs more efforts and confidence building measures. Afghan led and Afghan owned peace settlement can only emerge after direct talks start. External actors can only facilitate, support, mediate and assist. The Government has expressed unequivocally that democratic gains of last 17 years, including rights of women, and participation of youths would not be forsake. It is unlikely that any meaningful dialogue between them can start before the scheduled presidential election on 20 July 2019. 
In 2001 and subsequent to it, US opted for an approach, which was tilted towards unilateralism with western model of security sector reconstruction and nation rebuilding. SIGAR reports are live testimonies of their inadequacies. Today’s Afghanistan is a 21st century democratic state with its functional institutions and capable armed forces and so the approach is to be aligned towards strengthening democratic principles. US should take lessons from earlier approaches including Bonn process and bring a multilateral approach for the newly emerging post peace settlement Afghanistan, which does not pose a threat to anyone and is inclusive of all including the Taliban. Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process has to be Afghan centered reflecting Afghan ethos. Upendra emphasizes that there’s not an iota of doubt that Amb. Khalilzad can persuade all to develop consensus but he should remain focused on the basic tenets of the approach: multilateralism engaging local and regional partners. There should be efforts to find local and regional solutions with multilateralism in scope, including regional participation to bring about transitional security stabilization and nation building, and to establish and put in place UN led, independent monitoring, verification and accountability mechanisms.

Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammed.g.sahibbzada@gmail.com

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