Obstacles to Afghan peace talks

DESPITE media hype, the preliminary contacts between Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan and the Taliban on peace negotiations are shrouded in secrecy. The Afghan peace talks face quite a few impediments, because of a number of factors, primary among them being that all the parties with a stake in any Afghan peace talks have different and often conflicting policy goals of what the talks might achieve. The talks, preliminary as they are, are being propelled by a realization on all sides that a military solution will not work. The biggest pressure is time. The general public in the US is exerting domestic pressure, calling the unpopular war to end and for the troops to return home at an early date. The Taliban, although they have begun participating in the preliminary talks, insist that foreign forces must leave Afghanistan before there are any talks. However some flexibility in that stand is possible with events moving gradually from the military to the political phase. The United States insists that the Taliban must first lay down their arms, renounce al-Qaida, and accept the Afghan constitution, however that too is no longer a real precondition. There is little chance of a coalition, but power-sharing, under which the Taliban commanders would exert power in some provinces and districts in the south and possibly the east, is a possibility. A major obstacle is the perceived role for Pakistan in the talks.

US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrook has admitted that Taliban who renounced al Qaeda would be welcomed back in Afghan politics is essentially a brainchild of Pakistan. However, some elements in the US, are expressing the malicious idea through the US and Indian media that Pakistan is trying to sabotage these efforts. It needs to be understood that Pakistan’s concerns for its own security are a major stake for achieving peace in Afghanistan. The Obama administration is to begin another review of its Afghan policy in December. If conditions permit, President Obama would like to start phasing out the U.S. troop presence beginning in July 2011. However, any negotiated solution will require at least some foreign troop presence to remain to guarantee security. The Taliban may not like it, but in the end it may be their best protection against a repeat of 1992, when victorious anti-Soviet mujahedin fighters took to battling each other, setting off a civil war. Having international forces there for a period actually allows greater stability while a new political process can get under way and a new government can get established on a firm footing.

The question here is, who should comprise this force? Pakistan is deeply concerned about growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. Ample evidence is available that Indian forces have not only used the soil of Afghanistan as a launching pad for terror activities in Pakistan but also used their numerous consulates and trade missions to recruit, train, arm and launch anti-Pakistan elements to destabilize arch rival Pakistan. Western analysts claim that it is this apprehension that drives at least some elements of the Pakistani army and intelligence services to, officially or unofficially, back the Taliban as a strategic hedge against Indian influence in the Karzai government. U.S. officials remain concerned that Pakistan has not been sufficiently aggressive in Washington’s view in eradicating the Pakistan-based Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries.

This is a malicious propaganda but pragmatism must prevail and the US should view the possible solutions to the Afghan imbroglio through the prism of Pakistan’s concerns too. Another dangerous development is the explosive idea floated by David Blackwell regarding the division of Afghanistan. Not only will it prove counterproductive, but the US should realize that any such envisaged effort will be opposed vehemently by all Afghans, irrespective of their ethnicity. A major non-starter is the exclusion of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar from the talks. By playing favourites and picking and choosing possible allies among the Taliban is a clear obstacle. If the Afghan peace talks have to succeed, Taliban leaders across the board should be asked to participate in the negotiations. – Dailymailnews