Afghan Peace Process
Afghan Peace Process.
Afghan Government – Taliban – Pakistan and the U.S.
by: Waqas A. Khan
Recent history is marred by acts of violence, mistrust, greed, indignation and unworthy behavior. For once, our beloved Pakistan stands not as a dispassionate observer but as a righteous powerbroker for a most-worthy commodity — peace.
A Taliban truck bomb was used on April 19 to attack the Afghan Intelligence and Elite Services building in Kabul, Afghanistan. The carnage claimed 63 lives, injured 300 and quashed hopes of resuscitating stalled peace talks.
This came less than two months after representatives of the United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan met in Kabul on Feb. 25. They discussed ways to further peace negotiations with the Taliban during the first-ever quadrilateral meeting to broach the issue.
How we got to this point is something of an all-too-curious and infuriating timeline.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai jump-started a supposed peace initiative on Jan. 22, 2010, unveiling an ambitious Western-funded plan to offer money and jobs to tempt Taliban fighters to lay down their arms. Then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates described the Taliban as being part of Afghanistan’s “political fabric,” but he said clearly that any future roles for these insurgents would depend upon them laying down their weapons.
Several months later, on Sept. 4, Karzai announced formation of a High Peace Council to pursue formal talks with the Taliban; and barely a month later, Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan, was cast as chairman of the council. Karazai then claimed that secret talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban already were underway, but the latter group issued an emphatic denial. Curiously, on Nov. 20, NATO announced that combat missions in Afghanistan would come to an end by 2014.
Karzai would issue official confirmation on June 18, 2011, that the U.S. was indeed holding talks with the Taliban. But on Sept. 20, a Taliban suicide bomber successfully targeted Rabbani, the peace envoy.
Taliban leaders announced on Jan. 3, 2012, they had come to an “initial agreement” to set up an overseas political office, possibly in Qatar. This was their first public gesture in the name of talks with the U.S. The group demanded the release of prisoners held at the U.S.-run detention facility Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This was the first time the Taliban had relaxed its stance that “they would not talk until all foreign troops had left Afghan soil.” By the end of the month, a Taliban spokesman said talks with U.S. officials had begun in Qatar about possible peace negotiations. Soon afterward — on March
15 — the Taliban announced suspension of contact with the U.S. and closed the Qatar political office.
Eight months later, on Dec. 20, representatives of Afghanistan’s warring factions (including the Taliban) met outside Paris for two days of talks.
Karzai launched a diatribe in January 2013, in which he accused foreign countries of plotting against his nation’s peace initiative. He said all further negotiations should take place under the auspices of his administration. To coddle Karzai, British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted a meeting in London. Cameron, Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari agreed to work toward a peace deal within six months.
The Taliban reopened their political office in Doha, Qatar on June 18, and officials announced that U.S. envoys would launch talks within days. But the Afghan government lashed out at U.S. efforts to broker peace with the Taliban. It suspended security talks with Washington and threatened to boycott future processes. This forced the U.S. representative to deny that any talks had been scheduled with the Taliban.
Since then, the matter of peace talks has been like a game of Candy Crush. It seemed as if the weak-but-defiant Afghan government, whose influence is very much limited to Kabul, actually wanted the U.S. and the Taliban to continue confronting each other indefinitely.
Understanding that Karzai was impeding the process, the U.S. asked Pakistan to help bring Taliban and Afghan representatives back to the table. Pakistan, which has hosted Taliban political leadership in Karachi and Quetta, leveraged the strength of its relationships and was successful. By July 8, 2015, the first round of Pakistani-brokered talks between representatives of the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban took place in Murree; both parties agreed to meet again.
Pakistan hosted this meeting between the representatives of the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban as part of its commitment to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process, Representatives from the U.S. and China were cast as observers.
The Afghan government again destroyed the latest peace process that same month by revealing that Mullah Omar, who had fled to a secret location after the 2001 invasion of Kabul but continued to lead the Taliban while in hiding, had died at a Karachi hospital in April 2013. The Taliban had been withholding news of his death. The group, forced to acknowledge the top-tier loss, would again abandon the talks.
So, why was this information disclosed even as preparations were underway for the second round of peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban?
Answer is simple — blatant sabotage and greed. By maintaining the status quo, the Kabul government ensured itself nine more months of dollars flooding into its coffers.
After news of their leader’s death was revealed, the Taliban restructured in an effort to control any fractures within the group; 90 percent would unite under the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
Spring forward to April 12, 2016 as the Taliban announce Operation “Omeri,” the beginning of its spring offensive. The group pledged to conduct large-scale suicide and guerrilla attacks against Afghan government strongholds to drive that further disturbs the country’s western-backed government. Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani apparently did not take the threats seriously, saying that Afghanistan would confront and compete furiously against this “enemy.”
The attack just a week later, which The Washington Post described as being “against the main training ground for an Afghan intelligence unit tasked with protecting senior officials,” was a jarring reminder that the Kabul government is ill-equipped to counter the Taliban.
Naturally, Islamabad was reluctant to host direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Pakistan, instead, wisely counseled the Afghan government to maintain contact with the Taliban office in Doha and to participate in the next round of talks in Qatar. Taliban leadership had good reason to reject what they view as “futile misleading negotiations.”
While attempts were being made to persuade the insurgent group to soften its stance, the U.S. once again asked Pakistan to help lure the Taliban back into negotiations. But once-burned, twice-shy Pakistan was rightly wary of the expectations associated with bringing hostile governmental and insurgent factions together. After all, such a Herculean endeavor would be made all the more thankless by the irresponsible attitude and conduct of the Afghan government. It didn’t help when Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani blustered a few days ago that he no longer has any confidence in Pakistan’s ability to nudge the Taliban toward the negotiating table, .
But on April 26, just 24 hours after Ghani’s ill-timed and ill-advised remarks, a high-level Afghan Taliban delegation arrived in Pakistan from the Qatar political office in a bid to restart the stuttering peace process with Kabul.
In our humble part of the world, it can be difficult to discern the true enemies of peace, It is heartening to know that leaders from both entities have acknowledged that Pakistan has proven itself a worthy because of its legitimate interest in brokering peace.
Pakistan. Worthy. Peace.
Great words to have associated with the name of such a great nation.
But these great words can be earned, too, by Afghanistan and by the insurgents, only if they are sincere in the words they finally utter to one another in a truly honorable pursuit of peace.
Pakistan the peace broker.
Yes, we are more than worthy!