Afghanistan Peace in Kaleidoscope
By: Bassam Javed
As the US withdrawal time from Afghanistan approaches near, there is a renewed desire within America to engage Taliban in talks. With the Qatar initiative gone in the cold storage for US reluctance to release Taliban leaders from Guantanamo bay, new vistas have been opened elsewhere around the globe. The latest has been the French initiative wherein various Afghan stake holders were invited to Paris on 21-23 December to discuss Afghan imbroglio. A Paris based Foundation ‘pour la Recherche Strategique’ also arranged two conferences with other Afghan parties during the occasion. The Conference was fruitful in many ways. Whereas the Paris initiative afforded an opportunity to the Afghan government officials and Taliban to talk to each other directly, it also served as a platform for the Taliban to renew their demands for foreign forces to quit Afghanistan.
Earlier there was also a flurry of Afghan officials’ visits to Pakistan. The first visit was that of ‘Afghan Peace Council’. The Council inter acted with Pakistani officials seeking help to bring Taliban on the negotiating table with the Kabul regime. The Council also handed over a road map for integration of Taliban into Afghan national polity by the time foreign forces quit Afghanistan. As a good will gesture, the government of Pakistan released a few of the detained Taliban leaders in Pakistan, including Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, the justice minister during Taliban regime. Another important initiative that the two sides agreed to was about using Ulema to persuade the Taliban to join the peace process. The Ulema Conference could either be held in Saudi Arabia or any other Islamic country. The Conference would be mandated with deliberations on the issue of rising militancy and suicide attacks in the name of religion in the Islamic world.
The road map of integrating Taliban with the Afghan polity was also discussed between President Zardari and Karzai in Turkey recently. The road map out lines four mile stones. First one focuses on taking Islamabad on board for furthering peace process, second milestone calls for initiating moves for direct interaction with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia in the first half of the year 2013. The third milestone speaks of cease fire deals with the Taliban and transforming them into political parties to enable them participate in 2014 elections. The fourth one seeks securing a peaceful end to the conflict by first half of 2014.
Whatever Afghan stability dynamics may shape into as 2014 approaches, one thing is certain that Pakistan’s centrality to Afghan stability cannot be ignored. Pakistan has always said that any peace process in Afghanistan must be Afghan led and Afghan owned. By saying so it has made it clear that it will not support any other process and as such any country that takes such initiatives will not bear fruits. Chief of the Army Staff while addressing a gathering at Brussels earlier this month also made it abundantly clear that it will only accept Afghan owned and Afghan led peace process.
Pakistan has a critical role to play in bringing peace to Afghanistan not only to secure itself but also the region and beyond. Frequent interaction between Pakistani and Afghan officials have gone to reduce the trust deficit between the two. ‘Strategic Agreement’ between the two countries has now become a distinct possibility. The recent meeting between the respective Presidents in Turkey has also gone to remove trust deficit to some extent despite Karzai’s apprehensions of Pakistani hand in terrorist attack on his Security Chief not too long ago. As the ‘Afghan Peace Council’s’ road map envisages, all the parties will be working together to get some ceasefire agreement by the end of 2013 or early 2014 before the Foreign Forces quit Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the renewed gamut of Afghan reconciliation efforts has given hopes that 2014 may be the year when Taliban may form permanent part of Afghan political mainstream and relative peace is established. The Afghan war has taken its toll on all the participants. They are all tired. Some Taliban leaders have accepted that they cannot continue to fight forever and taking negotiations course is the best remedy to save Afghanistan from further destruction.
Pakistan is interested in seeing an end to war in Afghanistan and have some kind of say in any future Kabul set-up. This will be in line with its desire that whosoever comes into power in Afghanistan it does not support whether inadvertly India in anti-Pakistan activities on its soil. This wish may not hold true for long keeping the history of Indo-Afghan relationship. For all of its sacrifices in the war on terror and international recognition that peace in Afghanistan is a distant possibility unless Pakistan is made part of the process, Pakistan’s take will be considered seriously while peace negotiations are carried out with the Taliban. Pakistan, as such has to tread the path with utmost clarity and commitment to deliver on the peace process for if it does not, there is all the likely hood that Afghanistan may slip back into a civil war, a chilling scenario that nobody wants to embrace.