Will Afghan Taliban talk?
The Taliban leader has stated that they have never been in a better position and have issued a statement saying that they will not take part in reconciliation talks
The numerous rounds of meetings by the Quadrilateral Coordination Committee (QCC), involving the representatives from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States, are now considered as a non-starter after Taliban issued a statement about their refusal to participate in the reconciliation talks with the Kabul administration. Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, reportedly claimed the Taliban were winning the war and were “in a better state than at any other time.”
The prospects of jumpstarting peace talks with the Taliban in the present scenario appear not as bright as it was thought before. The buoyant Taliban, after major battlefield successes in many Afghan provinces are upbeat; they believe that they have upper hand in the battlefield and that will also strengthen their position on negotiation table. Taliban fighters are in no mood to halt much touted spring offensive against the demoralised Afghan security forces. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been requesting Pakistan to persuade Taliban to halt the military offensive thereby creating a conducive atmosphere for the proposed peace talks.
The Talibans have reiterated many times that the group would directly speak to the Americans, and not to the American- appointed rulers in Kabul. The Americans and their allies have also not fulfilled some of the demands of the group. Taliban have asked for the release of some high-profile prisoners, removal their names from a United Nation’s blacklist, unfreezing their assets, lifting of travel ban on its leaders and formal recognition of their political office in Qatari city Doha. Taliban have also repeatedly said that the group would not take part in any peace talk until the last foreign soldier leaves the soil of Afghanistan.
The Taliban who had been overthrown in the 2001 by the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, have been fighting against the U.S. backed Afghan government and NATO forces ever since. Their insurgency exponentially escalated after the end of U.S.-NATO combat mission in November 2014. Now Talibans believe that they are in strongest position in the last 15 years, both militarily and diplomatically, and the Afghan government is at the weakest point after having lost considerable ground to Talibans in the recent past.
In spite of substantial gain on the ground, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has also been facing rifts and infighting since officially taking over the Taliban. A much comforting reports for Mansoor surfaced last week when Mullah Mohammed Rasool, leader of a renegade Taliban faction, was reportedly arrested by the authorities in Pakistan. It was also earlier reported by Afghan officials that Rasool’s military commander Mullah Mansoor Dadullah was already killed by Mansoor faction in the Khak-i-Afghan district of Zabul province in Afghanistan.
In an apparent bid to preempt further internecine rifts, the Taliban in Afghanistan have appointed the son and brother of the movement’s former chief to important poitions. A week ago, the Taliban announced the promotion of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s eldest son, Mullah Yaqoub, as commander in 15 out of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Omar’s brother, Mullah Abdul Manan, meanwhile, was made “the head of Dawat wal Irshad,” or the Preaching and Guidance Commission. They both were also given seats on the executive council, which is better known as the Quetta Shura. Yaqoub and Abdul Manan were reportedly convinced by senior group leaders and religious scholars to resolve their differences with the present Taliban chief, Mullah Mansour, and accept the positions. It is quite understandable that Pakistani intelligence agencies had played a major role in their reconciliation
Moreover, new Taliban chief Mansoor is believed to be Pakistan’s man. Pakistan has always had a considerable influence on Taliban leadership due to its close proximity with the group since its inception. As Pakistan Prime Minister’s special adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, told the AP “that Islamabad is trying to persuade the Taliban leaders who are in Pakistan to join the talks. He also acknowledged that some key Afghan Taliban figures live in Pakistan and receive medical care here.”
On the other hand, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is faced with plenty of problems at home - from the resurgent Taliban, a contracting economy and deep political divisions, to a desperate need to keep funds from the international community flowing in after the complete NATO pullout. Ghani’s recent attempt to strike an intelligence-sharing deal with Pakistan fell through following opposition from CEO Abdullah Abdullah. In this fluid situation, Ghani is left with very little room to maneuver, with fragile state of affairs and morally down military, he is unlikely to defeat the Taliban in the battlefield and deep political divisions within his government are not allowing him to seriously consider the stated demands of the Taliban.
There is a growing suspicion on Pakistan’s intent especially on Afghan side as if why Pakistan is not pressuring the Taliban enough to sit on negotiation table with the representatives from Afghan government. Whether Pakistan does have such leverage on Taliban or not, Pakistan is also waiting for the complete withdrawal of the NATO forces from Afghanistan. Maybe, with their recent military gains, the Talibans have established new sanctuaries inside Afghanistan, and they do not need to heed the requests from Pakistan as before.
No matter, how much pressure Pakistan exercises on Taliban for peace talks, the latter are not likely to go beyond the point. However, the Talibans would also not do anything irrational so as to lose the political patronage of Pakistan. They both will continue to work in unison. So, it is highly unlikely that the Taliban will budge from their stated position on peace talks until some of their demands are met.
As the arising situation is highly sensitive and tricky, the parties concerned would need to show their statesmanship and political vision while affecting a breakthrough and bringing reconciliation through peace talks. As the Afghan people have already suffered devastation on a tragic level due to the intervention of the world’s imperialistic powers and the entailing long wars, they are badly in need of peace and rehabilitation. The global humanity is curiously watching whether Pakistan would be able to show its extraordinaire political vision required to solve the Afghan tangle and allow peace prevail in the region. That is the best option in the prevalent scenario.