While any long-term resolution to the Afghan problem must directly engage the Taliban on the details of a comprehensive ceasefire as well as the group’s status and role in the post-conflict system of governance, the Taliban have been insistent on a date for US withdrawal along with the release of all Taliban detainees in Guantánamo and Afghanistan before any agreement is materialized.
However, many complicated issues are to be addressed if any sustainable plan on the resolution of the conflict has to be on the table.
The Taliban’s commitments to human rights including women’s rights specifically, to containing the illegal production and trafficking of opium and to help rehabilitate almost 2.5 million refugees from Afghanistan as a result of the prolonged conflict must be ensured before any steps at removing military, financial and diplomatic restrictions placed on the group by the international community are undertaken.
The Taliban’s aspiration of establishing a “pure Islamic government” must be deliberated and common ground must be developed as a way to accommodate the principles of pluralism, power-sharing and election-based politics and the achievements made in the areas of state-building, democratization and pluralism must be strengthened further if the peace process has to succeed.
Further, it is also believed that any comprehensive dialogue process must involve the complicated exercise of discussing the political future of the group’s local commanders and foot soldiers apart from that of the leaders. Ignoring this may lead to endless fragmentation of the group which in turn would generate ceaseless concerns of insecurity and instability.
Meanwhile the Taliban’s chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas is reported to have remarked in an April 28 speech to an “internal gathering” in Doha, Qatar, that the US is on the verge of defeat and will quit Afghanistan soon “either of their own accord or they will be forced out.”
This remark while the talks are going on between the Taliban and the US interlocutors point to the fact that the group believes that it can prolong and circumvent the talks and let the war-weary US withdraw.
On the other hand, the US representative Zalmay Khalilzad is seeking guarantees that the Taliban will not provide safe haven to terrorist groups and work toward ensuring that Afghan territory is not be used to launch strikes against the US by transnational groups such as al-Qaeda, the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and ISIS in future.
The US State Department has referred to Russia, and China joining with the US calling for intra-Afghan talks which urged a ceasefire as well as supported “an orderly and responsible withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of the overall peace process.”
It must be noted while the regional powers have been stressing on an “Afghan-owned” and “Afghan-led” peace process, their specific geopolitical concerns propelled them to assume roles that were at odds with the US peace moves. For instance, Russia hosted Afghan peace talks separate from the American format and China, Pakistan, Iran including Russia conducted a number of meetings and expressed their Afghan concerns implicating the US for a unilateral role.
While Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi expressed Islamabad’s willingness to see the Taliban give up their refusal to talk to the Afghan government and participate in the political settlement of the long-drawn Afghan conflict, Pakistan’s sincerity in seeking a stable and peaceful Afghanistan has been questionable.
On the other side, Pakistan’s Information Minister, Fawad Chaudhry, asserted that Pakistan was taking action according to a National Action Plan formulated in 2014 and decisions taken by the National Security Committee of the country in its efforts to fulfill the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – a body that works to combat money laundering and terrorism financing and comply with the UN Security Council resolutions on counter-terrorism measures.
However, reservations regarding Pakistan’s sincerity in taking on terrorism have been expressed in several quarters. The US and the Afghan government have held Pakistan responsible for continuing insurgencies and instabilities in Afghanistan on several occasions.
The Trump administration has so far been unable to deal with Islamabad in a way that could help it achieve breakthroughs in Afghan peace efforts. The US continues to depend on Pakistan’s ground and air supply routes to supply goods to American forces in Afghanistan despite its apparent offensive gesture towards Pakistan.
Although the deterioration in Islamabad’s relations with Washington did not lead to blocking of the ground and air routes through Pakistan for ferrying supplies to the US-led international forces stationed in landlocked Afghanistan, it was believed any further deterioration in US-Pak relations could lead to blocking of these channels.
Islamabad very often rebuffed Washington’s frequent charges that it has not been serious in taking on terrorism. For instance, foreign minister Qureshi said Pakistani security forces have dismantled “the safe havens” and anti-Pakistan “safe havens” that exist today in Afghanistan “under your [U.S] watch” are a concern for Islamabad.
On the other side, bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan were marred by mutual suspicions despite their apparent willingness to move ahead with the peace process. Kabul not only blamed Islamabad very often on the charges of sabotaging Afghan peace process and interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani went to the extent of appointing hard-line opponents of Pakistan to two top security posts which was believed to complicate US efforts at reviving peace talks with the Taliban ahead of withdrawal of American troops.
Further, Pakistan perceived India’s non-military and developmental role in Afghanistan as a policy of New Delhi’s strategic encirclement and viewed India’s enhanced diplomatic presence in the country with suspicion and alleged it with involvement in promoting anti-Pakistani elements. Thus, the peace efforts must address security concerns of Pakistan in order to register its unambiguous support.
The US strategy of containing Iran and Russia has not only prevented Washington from working on alternative routes other than supply routes made available by Pakistan, Moscow and Tehran have reportedly maintained contacts with the Afghan Taliban to safeguard and promote their interests in Afghanistan.
Washington cannot hope to move ahead with the peace process only by courting Islamabad’s support while simultaneously pursuing containment strategies toward Moscow and Tehran.
The far-reaching sway of the Taliban in Afghanistan has enabled it to move in the peace process with relative flexibility. For instance, the Taliban have been refusing to deal directly with the internationally recognized government in Kabul considering it an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime.
Second, the Taliban argued that the foreign troops must withdraw first to pave way for peace and negotiations.