The Afghan peace process has entered a new – perhaps the decisive – phase as the United States has offered to hold direct talks with the Taliban, for which the latter were waiting and had been pressing since long. Although the United States has been involved in negotiations since their efforts at making peace with the Taliban began in 2005, these involvements had been covert and out of the press or public eye. Major stakeholders in this process of dialogue to foster peace in Afghanistan have always been the Afghan government, Pakistan, the Taliban and China, as well as other neighbouring countries including, especially Russia and Iran, besides the United States and a few allied European countries. Strenuous efforts on the part of some of these countries remained successful in bringing a short-term ceasefire during three days of Eid-ul-Fitr. Along with some other prominent reasons, keeping in view the elusive, resilient nature of Taliban as well as their unclear line of command, peace talks with them have been consistently derailed in the past.
Recent announcement by the Trump administration that the US is ready to engage in direct peace talks with the Taliban has opened a new chapter in efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan. It was a principal demand of Taliban that they would talk directly with the US because it was the US that toppled their government in 2001 only to be replaced by a puppet regime in Kabul. Afghan government had, in the past, insisted that Taliban must talk only to them but the Taliban paid no heed and spurned such offers, terming the government in Kabul a puppet of the USA.
The Taliban and the people representing this organization at present are apparently completely different from the ones in the latter half of the 1990s. During the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan, most of the Taliban leaders have been killed through different means. Most of them, especially those having genuine patriotism for Afghanistan have been either eliminated or detained, and here arises the million-dollar question: what will be composition of the Taliban team in the peace process? Although there are a few teams of the Taliban leadership currently existing under the names of ‘Quetta Shura’, ‘Peshawar Shura’ and ‘Qatar Political Office of Afghan Taliban’, it remains unclear which one of them has more leverage on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan because on many occasions, different groups have refused to accept the authority of representatives for negotiations.
A show of unity of command was at play during the Eid-ul-Fitr when both Afghan government and the Taliban agreed to a three-day ceasefire. But, in the backdrop of repeated failure of peace efforts during the last eighteen years – owing to meddling of neighbouring countries’ intelligence agencies – it is unclear whether the entire insurgency is supported and structured in one shape, or they might fall in pieces in the event certain demands of countries having vested interests are not met. Those Taliban leaders, who were brought to Qatar in 2013 to open a currently-defunct political office there, are almost out of touch and not aligned with the present Taliban militant wing’s command and control structure and political organization, as they have been confined to different geographical locations. It happened also because of operational changes inside the Taliban military campaigns. For example, Taliban fighters were under a central command during the first decade of their campaign against Afghan government and international forces, but starting in 2014, Taliban military tactics and their operational organization has been decentralized. In order to make sure that their campaigns move forward, the military commanders have been given free hand to decide and operate at their will. These changes along with the newly emerged leaders in the insurgents’ ranks pose considerable challenges to the stakeholders to initiate a comprehensive, inclusive and productive peace process.
Read More: Is China Bringing Peace to Afghanistan?
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