Afghan peace process
Dr Muhammad Khan
FROM the perspective of Afghan Taliban, acceptance and debate on three issues would define the contours of Afghan peace process. The first issue is about the withdrawal of US and foreign forces from Afghan soil. The second issue in the priority is exchange of prisoners, Taliban desires their prisoners with US and Afghan Government should be released and in return they will release the prisoners, they have. The third issue is about lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders, which cannot travel around the world without US permission, since 2001. There have been rounds of formal and informal talks between US and Taliban but, no consensus could be achieved on all three points. In November 2018, United States did announce reducing its military presence in Afghanistan to half but, there exists ambiguity about the future course of action, since White House and Pentagon are not on the same page on the issue of pull-out of US forces. In the absence of clarity from US, this gesture is being perceived as an appeasement policy for Taliban to move forward in the talks. Moreover, it was announced a day earlier to Taliban-US talks in Doha, Qatar in November 2018. On their parts, Taliban are not happy with US, since there have been more promises with no implementation on ground.
Pakistan has always advised US for a political solution of Afghan problem. However, after a prolonged and ineffective military engagement in Afghanistan, U.S has come to the conclusion that political settlement of Afghan conflict is the ultimate way forward. Such an initiative will empower its people to ‘chart a shared course for the future of their nation.’ Intra-Afghan dialogue would serve as a platform for reaching over to a consensus solution. With this mind-set, US has started emphasizing Taliban to talk to Afghan Government either as part of intra-Afghan dialogue or else allows the Afghan Government delegation to participate in the US-Taliban talks. Taliban are still reluctant to talk to Afghan Government on the grounds that it is a puppet government, acting as US tool; therefore it is irrational to talk to them. Their argument is based on the fact that Kabul regime would follow the directives from Washington. Then, Taliban also question the writ and legitimacy of Afghan Government. Besides, Taliban has a view point that Afghan Government is not capable of addressing their demands like withdrawal of US forces; thus talking to them would be a futile effort, rather wastage of time. Moreover, it will be amounting to recognizing the legitimacy of Afghan Government.
The US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, visited Islamabad after a tour of Kabul, with a hope to meet the Taliban representatives. He had a sequential meeting with Pakistani leadership, starting from Army Chief, General Bajwa. During the meeting at GHQ, Army Chief underlined the significance of peace and stability in Afghanistan for peace in Pakistan and regional peace of South and Central Asia. US delegate ‘appreciated Pakistan’s efforts towards the peace processes in Afghanistan. Prime Minister and Foreign Minister also promised for an all-out assistance in brokering this peace process. Pakistan has offered Taliban to talk to US for a broader peace in Afghanistan. From Taliban, there was a reluctance for talks in Islamabad. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid clearly said, “We want to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad.” A number of reasons are being cited from Taliban side for this refusal.
The first and the foremost reason is that US and its peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad are drifting from the agreed agenda; therefore, talks lose the essence. Indeed, Taliban are asking for complete pull-out of US forces from Afghanistan. Nevertheless, it may not be possible for the US to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan instantly, since it has its strategic interests in the region and immediate pull-out of forces would also cause security problems in Afghanistan and region around it. Refusal to talks at Islamabad, Taliban and US had two-day talks at Doha, Qatar on 21-22 January, 2019. As per Zabiullah Mujahid, “Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending the invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha, the capital of Qatar.” The outcome of the Doha Talks is awaited. However, in order to move forward with a positive outcome, US will have to accept the legitimate demands of Taliban as mentioned above. Exchange of prisoners from all sides will be the first confidence building measure (CBM), if implemented on humanitarian grounds. Besides, lifting the ban on Taliban leadership for international travel will boost the earlier CBM, paving the way for implementing the third demand, through announcement of a gradual pull-out of US forces from Afghanistan. While defining the contours of Afghan Peace Process, this proposed format of Taliban’s demands and their implementation may work as a catalyst for the success of this complex peace process between Taliban, US and all regional stakeholders.