It was almost certain that the stage was set for face-to-face talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government within the framework of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, which consists of US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Positive signals to that effect had been received by the concerned quarters in Pakistan and by the governments of the other members of the QCG. But then with a thud came reports that even if some other insurgent groups may join the talks the faction led by Mulla Akhtar Mansour will not be there. As long as foreign troops remain on the Afghan soil, his men will not sit on the negotiating table –Taliban’s precondition for participation.
The meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group on Afghanistan peace was recently held where the representatives of the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed to take action against “irreconcilable” elements. But despite high expectations, the Taliban not only rejected their participation in the talks but have still not shown any signs of their readiness to review the decision. But the government neither in Kabul nor in Islamabad or elsewhere was greatly surprised over this development. The very next day, President Ghani came on stage to tell the Taliban “You face a historic test — war or peace, but peace is the only way forward”. And he was on spot — the 14-year insurgency has not brought to Taliban any tangible victory. No doubt they did succeed in devastating their country, but to be in power in Kabul has remained an ever-receding mirage.
Mullah Akhtar Mansour is believed to be a pragmatist, and the preconditions his faction has announced are, in fact, a tactic to join the talks from a position of strength. Taliban believe that the political, security and military problems as well as the violence as a whole are deriving from the US and its allies and that Washington is not seeking a real peace deal in Afghanistan. In latest statement, the group has said that “the US has illegally occupied Afghanistan, killed hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens and committed millions of other crimes in the country and this process is ongoing with growing violence.” The statement further read:
“We want to repeat our stance once again that until the occupation of foreign troops ends, until Taliban names are removed from global blacklists, and until our detainees are released, talks will yield no results.”
It is to be understood that Taliban are wary of the US and Afghan government’s intentions to see peace in the war-torn country. They think that both of them are trying to weaken the group in the battlefield in a bid to force it to accede to the peace process.
So far, four rounds of four-party peace negotiations have been held with the intention of finding a way for the peace road map and negotiating the hurdles ahead of a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
The quartet has reached some accords in the fourth round of talks on the place and time of direct talks between Afghanistan’s government and Taliban’s representatives. They decided that the representatives of the Afghan government would meet and talk with the key representatives of Taliban group face-to-face in the Pakistani capital Islamabad in mid-March. As part of the upcoming dialogue arrangements, the Afghan government has handed in a 10-member list to Pakistan so that they represent Kabul in the direct peace dialogue.
Also, Taliban have also made a list which included such figures as the chief of the group’s political office in Qatar Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the group’s former head of political office in Qatar Syed Tayyab Agha, Nek Mohammad and Abdul Salam Hanafi, also members of Taliban’s office in Qatar, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, Taliban’s leader, and two of his commanders, Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani, the member of Haqqani Network Haji Mohammad Ebrahim, Mullah Muhammad Rasul and his deputy Abdul Manan Niazi.
However, immediately after the publication of the list, Taliban’s political office issued a statement, denying that the group had any intention to take part in the peace negotiations, adding that not only the leader of Taliban Mullah Akhtar Mansour has not authorized any member of the group to enter peace negotiations with the Afghan government but also the group’s political office in Qatar had no information about any timeline set for the negotiations. On the other side, some news have been emerging that there were some efforts underway by the country’s High Peace Council and the Afghan government and that some secret negotiations have been held with Taliban’s political representatives in Qatar.
But the fact is that Taliban are still adamant to get their preconditions for the dialogue fulfilled especially that the foreign forces must be pulled out of Afghanistan. The militant group has said that it would join the peace talks only if a timeframe is set for the withdrawal of the American forces. Analysts believe that Taliban are concerned about the guarantee for the decisions made in any upcoming peace dialogue with the Afghan government. But, to provide the group with such a guarantee, there must be a third conference — Vahid Mojdeh, an Afghan political analyst names it P6+1 — held with the presence of the representatives of Russia, India and Iran, because these three countries are able to press the US for guaranteed withdrawal timetable, otherwise, the four-party negotiations would prove a failure as there are divides between the participants, and it is predicted that in the future, these negotiations would not bring forth any specific outcome.
What can be highlighted at the end of this short analysis is that the peace process could see the light only when there would be a zero foreign intervention, especially by the US, in Afghanistan. Furthermore, other parties, including the internal and foreign sides, need to take part in the dialogue while holding an honest approach to the peace. But the evidence suggests that Afghanistan would continue to see wide-ranging crisis. For an array of reasons, the US does not want to provide security and peace in Afghanistan and this is why so far Washington has not shown any willingness for the same. It is unlikely that a peace agreement is brokered with Taliban.
The Americans hold other options for replacing Taliban and for keeping insecurity prevalent in Afghanistan. Recently, the US officials have spoken about a re-activated al-Qaeda’s role in Afghanistan. They also highlight ISIS terror group’s increasing role in the country. Unfortunately, in some cases, President Ashraf Ghani’s government walks in line with the US’ positions and talks about return of al-Qaeda, an issue which could give pause for thought.