Developments in Afghanistan – 2

Spearhead Analysis – 13.08.2018

By Hira A. Shafi
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

The Eid ul Fitr ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban was hailed as a success story- but this short lived vision of peace soon lapsed into violent conflict.  Since the beginning of the year President Ghani has offered a chance for unconditional peace talks with Afghan Taliban and has explored the prospect of enveloping the group into the national political landscape- provided the group renounces violence. 

The recent times have projected an increasing interest of the US and Afghanistan to initiate some form of talks with the Afghan Taliban. End of July 2018 witnessed a stream of speculations on US engaging in direct talks with representatives of the Afghan Taliban- a demand often enunciated by the group. Reportedly, a delegation led by Alice Wells held talks with representatives of the Afghan Taliban in Doha. The US officials described the meeting as dialogue on carving out a path for future peace talks. 

It is perceived that the US overture to engage in direct talks with the Taliban undermines the legitimacy of the Afghan Government- thus a preference is given to supporting an Afghan owned process. However, following the recent developments, Afghan officials stated that they were aware of the Doha meeting between Taliban and US officials, and that the US is merely facilitating the process but peace talks will be led by the Afghan government.

Conflicting reports surfaced from the Afghan Taliban, some representatives said the talks took place with the approval of the top leadership – It was also indicated that Taliban might be willing to accept a settlement in which the US maintains a troop presence in the country, in exchange for allowing the Taliban to participate in the Afghan government as a legitimate political party.

According to one report, the US pressed the Taliban to accept  Ghani’s ceasefire offer for Eid-ul Adha-  This is also said to bode well for Ghani’s political standing in the upcoming elections in Afghanistan- especially with the recent surge in public calls to end violence.

On the other hand, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, rejected the reports of talks as baseless and said the US is trying to divert attention from its failures in Afghanistan.

A few days after the news of talks broke out and the possibility of a ceasefire was on the table, Taliban fighters attacked Ghazni. Reportedly, the Taliban forces took over the city and the fighting between security forces and Taliban is ongoing.

According to a report, Waheed Mozhdah, who served in the Taliban regime is of the view that the recent talks would not play well with the Taliban’s rank-and-file and that many of the hardcore Taliban members would never accept the presence of U.S. troops or the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan. Some are of the view that the recent Taliban attacks might stall the government’s latest offers of a cease-fire and negotiations. Alongside, owing to the multiplicity of players in the Afghan arena, the role of spoilers cannot be overlooked- who have often stymied positive developments. Earlier in July, the US asked Pakistan to push Taliban to hold talks. Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson, responded by stating that Islamabad is not solely responsible for bringing Taliban to the table and that all stakeholders in Afghanistan will have to share this responsibility and Pakistan is ready to play its role in it. Pakistan also maintains that it no longer has the kind of leverage it once had on the Afghan Taliban because the group has control over large swathes of territory in Afghanistan and operates from there.

The idea of political mainstreaming of Afghan Taliban has often surfaced in the past, this is either stalled by episodes of violence perpetrated by spoilers or members of Afghan Taliban. Some are of the view that Taliban’s internal command and control structure lacks the appropriate structure of a political organization and is largely constructed as a fighting force. If peace talks and political mainstreaming are a consideration, the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban would have to work out how to re-structure is force and inculcate political acumen within its members. Secondly, if the Afghan government aspires to carve a genuine Afghan owned process, it must develop frameworks to reconcile its internal ideological and ethnic conflicts. It must also be willing to sincerely share the stakes with the broader Afghan society.   

The Afghan arena remains integral to bigger power rivalry, a factor which further complicates the internal security. The US along with major regional powers desire the same end goal of a stable Afghanistan, but perhaps the means to achieve it differ. The prominent members of the SCO- including Pakistan believe that a political solution is the answer to the Afghan conflict. The SCO as a collective body may carve out a coherent Afghan policy and sequentially engage in talks with US over how to harmonize broader interests and reduce violence. The bigger powers must then collectively facilitate Afghanistan in creating inclusive political frameworks that would ensure regional stability. There are reports of Taliban reaching out to Russia and China for support in peace talks—this may be their latest policy.           

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