By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
The British Deputy Commander of ISAF in Afghanistan, General Nick Carter has unveiled that, it would have been more appropriate if talks with Taliban were conducted a decade ago, immediately after the toppling their Government at Kabul. In an interview with the Guardian, the General said, “Back in 2002, the Taliban were on the run. I think that at that stage, if we had been very prescient, we might have spotted that a final political solution to what started in 2001, from our perspective, would have involved getting all Afghans to sit at the table and talk about their future.” The much-awaited Afghan peace talks were to be held formally at Qatar on June 20, 2013. As rhetoric, one may say that, Afghan peace process would be ‘Afghan led and Afghan owned’. In fact, this may sound good, but practically, it is implausible that with a super power (United States), having its stakes in the future of Afghanistan and this region would take the backseat.
Efforts for talks with Taliban have been going on for years. Even the Bush Administration had attempted to engage the Taliban for negotiations. There remained covert linkages between Taliban and US State Department and between Karazai and the Taliban. The only reason, why the peace process could not bring some positive results was that, US wanted to talk to Taliban from the position of strength and as a victorious power. The Taliban on the other hand were not accepting this US notion. Similarly, Taliban have never recognized the Hamid Karazai Government, thus, despite the efforts of incumbent Government in Kabul, the peace process could not move forward. As expected, the round of talks, planned in Doha, Qatar from June 20, 2013, between Taliban, US and Karazai administration has been scuttled for a variety of reasons. The most important and the real reason is that, Hamid Karazai never wanted US either to make direct contact with Taliban or to lead the talks. He however, agreed under compulsion to participate in the talks.
Nevertheless, Karazai was looking for an excuse to boycott the process. The irritated President later found an excuse to refuse to be part of the peace process on the pleas that, Taliban named their office in Doha as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and displayed white Taliban flag on the building. Karazai projected this act of Taliban as an attempt to present their office as the Taliban Government in exile. President Hamid Karazai while disassociating from the talks, accused Obama administration of playing double game. On their part, the US officials deny any such promise and acceptance of such a status for Taliban. Rather reportedly, US has advised the Qatar Government to emphasize the Taliban to name their office as, “the political bureau of the Afghan Taliban in Doha.” For long, U.S has been considering the Taliban as an, “obstacle to a peace settlement” in Afghanistan. The State Department however, considers that, the dialogue process is difficult and tricky. As per Jennifer Psaki, “We always knew there would be bumps in the road. Clearly this has been challenging.” Despite differences, it would have been better, had Karazai opted to be part of the peace process and allowed this forum to take a start at least.
Indeed, there are intricate demands from all sides. U.S wants Taliban to delink itself from Al-Qaida and that Afghan soil should not be used against any other country for the acts of terrorism. On their part, the Taliban demands some of their key prisoners to be released, US, and NATO to leave Afghanistan. Taliban do not want to talk to Hamid Karazai, whereas, Karazai wants to lead the peace process. After twelve years of fighting, there appears to be no clearly defined way forward for the solution of the Afghan problem. Karazai wants to remain relevant in the future Afghan setup by getting closer to all factions including Taliban. The Taliban accept neither the legitimacy of Karazai nor desirous of talks with Karazai administration. The US on its part is disappointed from Hamid Karazi, thus wants a direct talk with the Taliban for an honourable exit or else some mutuality acceptable formula for the future of Afghanistan. At the end of the day, it is indeed, the clash of interests of US, Karazai and Taliban. The sufferers are the people of Afghanistan, who want peace and stability in their homeland.
Anyhow, the solution of the Afghan crises lies in the political negotiations between Taliban, Kabul administration and United States. Today US accept the need for a political settlement of the Afghan predicaments. Pakistan has long been emphasizing on the need for talks and political settlement of Afghan problem. Following the unfortunate incident of 9/11, Pakistan had emphasized United States to go for a political solution and carry out negotiations with the Taliban. Even after taking over the Kabul, Pakistan stressed the need that peace in that country cannot be obtained until integration of Taliban into the mainstream Afghan politics. Contrary to Pakistani realistic proposals, then US President and US military command did not agree to that. They perhaps thought that, the initial victory of capturing the capital Kabul would fetch long-term victories for them in other parts of Afghanistan too. This did not happen and with the more alienation of Taliban, other militant groups and warlords, there were more failures for the US and NATO forces.
According to an analyst of Afghan affairs, “There are so many conspiracy theories regarding peace in Afghanistan. Some see a conspiracy on the part of the U.S. and Pakistan to pressure Kabul to accept the terms and conditions of strategic talks, while others see it as an attempt to undermine the government.” President Hamid Karazai, rather being friendly to Pakistan has been accusing it for supporting the Afghan Taliban. Indeed, the bottom line of the Pakistani policy makers is that, “we cannot wish for Afghanistan, which we do not wish for Pakistan.” It is beyond doubt that Pakistan wants peace, stability, and economic prosperity for its country; therefore, it desires same for Afghanistan. Indeed, a peaceful Afghanistan would guarantee the peace and tranquility in Pakistan. Pakistan is unequivocally supporting the peace talks between Taliban, US and Karazai led Kabul regime.
It is expected that, “At best, what we can hope for is that talks won’t break up in complete acrimony and they’ll agree to meet again at another date.” US cannot afford to allow a complete breakdown of the talks. It would try to persuade Hamid Karazai to remain part of the talks. Immediately, the super power would try to get free its imprisoned Army Sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl, who is under the captivity of Taliban, which may have to be reciprocated by exchange process of Taliban prisoners. US also fear that, in case of any failure of talks, the Taliban would enhance the militancy, which would create problems for the NATO and US pullout. Such a demonstration was seen once Taliban attacked US base and a hotel in Kabul. As per Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban ambassador to UN, such attacks are the “manifestation of the Taliban’s unhappiness about the recent events in Doha.” In a telephone interview with The Diplomat the former Taliban and a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, said that the “misunderstanding between different players in the peace talks has compelled the Taliban to indulge in this kind of attack. They are frustrated and want to assert themselves and show their power to attack at will anywhere.”
While there is a brawl between frustrated Karazai, Taliban and United States, the element of uncertainty for the future of Afghanistan is increasing day by day. With such a rigid approach at Kabul, Taliban may get more space for maneuvering and enhancing their influence in those areas too where they had thin presence in the past. Therefore, the need of the hour is that, Karazai should demonstrate flexibility and extend cooperation for the future generation of Afghanistan. Other stakeholders too need to find a middle course for the promotion of peace and stability in Afghanistan. After all, peace in Afghanistan is the ultimate objective all stakeholders.