When the US president Trump ordered American diplomats this summer to directly engage the Taliban in an Afghan peace process, many in Afghanistan welcomed it as a vital first step in trying to break the stalemate that dominates the 17-year war. The Taliban, repeatedly refused to deal with Kabul government, terming it, U.S. handpicked puppet, without any real power or devoid of significant political clout. Taliban took the US offer as weakness and thought they were winning.
Pakistan has brought Afghan Taliban, the biggest ethnic group of the Afghan population, staying out of power and fighting NATO and US forces in Afghanistan to the negotiation table. Pakistan has convinced the Taliban that neither U.S. nor Taliban were winning and there is absolutely no military solution to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Taliban were further sensitised to focus on the rebuilding of Afghanistan through international funding of their homeland rather than empty slogans of victory like the ones raised during Soviets’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Pakistan shares 2,430-kilometre long mountainous border with Afghanistan. An unstable Afghanistan threatens Pakistan therefore; Pakistan has immense interest for the peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan is the natural partner to anyone working for the peace and order in Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan immediately responded to US request to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan.
PM Imran Khan said in a tweet: “Pakistan has helped in the dialogue between the Taliban and the United States in Abu Dhabi. Let us pray that this leads to peace and ends almost three decades of suffering of the brave Afghan people”.
Now there are numerous reports that Taliban representatives have carried out preliminary talks to end the 17-year war. The meeting took place in the United Arab Emirates with US, Pakistani, Saudi Arabian and Emirati officials discussing the cease-fire, status of US forces in Afghanistan and Taliban power-sharing formula in the government. According to the US Department of Defense, currently, there are about 14,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Afghanistan apart from civilian contractors.
A Taliban spokesman says the group prefers to negotiate directly with the U.S. rather than Afghan officials because it considers the Afghan government illegitimate.
The current Afghan government has feared marginalisation of non-Pashtun ethnic groups, declining morale of the Afghan security forces sustaining heavy casualties when the top adversary (Taliban) gain a dominant share of political power and resources.
Many people in Afghanistan are also wary of giving the Taliban too generous of a deal, but the problem is that with every passing day the security situation is getting worse and large numbers of civilians are dying.
The outcome of negotiations remains unknown, both to those involved in the negotiations and the outsiders including the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Taliban are in the jubilant mood, but the Taliban’s style of governance is also not acceptable to many. Taliban’s blend of Islamic ideology and tribal hierarchy might be more palatable if they form a political party similar to the parties established by other militant groups from the Soviet resistance era. A hasty withdrawal or hastily-negotiated peace deal with the Taliban or as is the hallmark of previous US history could be dangerous and invite further infighting.
Taliban need face saving announcement to end this conflict otherwise, Afghans will have no problem in being the regional partner of USA in future. The peace deal should include guarantees from all stakeholders, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia to prevent the Taliban from amassing too much power like present coalition government which has marginalised the Pashtun.
Pluralist government is vital for achieving peace and rebuilding of the state and society. As is the case with many other developing nations, Afghanistan has been a victim of a strong central authority. It is abundantly clear that unless the new government in Afghanistan is decentralised in character, it cannot succeed.
Continuous arm-twisting by an international peace-making force and funds donors could push the warring groups towards lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. Proxy battles in Afghanistan must come to an end. India could be asked to quit its surrogate efforts against Pakistan through Afghanistan.
The US with the support of all governments who influence varying factions of Afghanistan should work out a transparent peace deal for a phased graceful US exit and peace and rebuilding of the war-torn country. The people of Afghanistan have paid a hefty price for sheltering Osama bin Laden and suffered immense hardships. They deserve peace.
Taliban veterans should also behave more like statesmen and less like warlords. Else, everyone will be losers even after the pullout of US forces from Afghanistan. Fighting and spoiling are easier but bringing peace and prosperity is a complicated process.
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