AFGHANISTAN’S anarchical situation has frustrated both internal and external stakeholders. The recent parliamentary elections presented the continuity of the democratic process in Afghanistan. But the surge in violence and turnout in the parliamentary elections have pessimistic fallout. Therefore, it is a debatable subject whether the continuity of election process in the country evolved a participatory culture in the Afghan society, which is imperative for the stability of democratic political system. In such a gloomy situation, the direct talks between the American diplomats and the representatives of Afghan Taliban seem meaningful. It qualifies the hypothesis that Trump administration has seriously been working for the major break through in Afghanistan, prior to the start of series of presidential primary elections and caucuses of 2020 Presidential election in the United States.
The reversal of a longstanding United States policy, i.e. “Any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government,” may improve the situation in the country. The American diplomats held face-to-face talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar twice since July 2018. The United States strategy to engage Afghan Taliban directly in the peace process germinated a hope for the restoration of peace in the war wearing society and state. Is Washington prepared to withdraw from Afghanistan, completely? The geopolitical trends at the global landscape indicate that the US will not withdraw from Afghanistan any time soon.
Without the withdrawal of the troops, Washington may not satisfy the insurgents. But the direct talk with Afghan Taliban is a right step in the right direction. It accommodates one of the important demands of the Taliban that the negotiations must be between them and the Americans as long as the American military is present in Afghanistan. Indeed, the direct talks between them are not a novel idea. In 2015, both sides had similar efforts. The peace talks were held between the Americans and the Taliban in Doha but they were faltered after the Afghan government denounced the process. Presently, the Afghan government is in favor of direct talks. Ms. Durrani Waziri, the deputy spokeswoman for President Ashraf Ghani stated: “The government of Afghanistan welcomes every effort which supports the peace process under the auspices of the government…. We appreciate help and support from any side that can ease the peace process.” President Ghani also announced that he was ready to pursue efforts for peace. He said, “Everything can be on the table here as we move forward with this Afghan-led process.”
The Americans direct talks with Taliban exposed the inability of the President Ghani regime to engage the insurgents. In addition, it also reveals the failure of Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy announced on August 21, 2017. The deployment of four thousands additional troops were not enough to restore the writ of the Ghani government in the country. The coalition forces have failed to frustrate and defeat the insurgents. According the latest report from the US government watchdog shows that no territory has been won back from the Taliban.
Last month, Zalmay Khalilzad, a new special envoy for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan visited Islamabad, Kabul and Doha. His meetings in these cities were meaningful. His interventions resulted in the release of a senior Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund by the Pakistan Government. He was second only to Mullah Omar, at the time of his arrest in 2010. The subsequent appreciation of the Americans confirms that this was the fulfillment of a long-standing Kabul demand to help facilitate the peace process.
Pakistan’s role in the affairs of Afghanistan is undeniable. It supports Afghan led Afghan own peace process. It seems instrumental in restarting direct talks between the American diplomats and the Afghan Taliban. Ironically, it has failed to transform the Trump administration and Afghan ruling elite’s destabilizing dual policy. They have been engaging Pakistan for restoring peace in the country and concurrently have been accusing it for derailing the peace process. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Henry Ensher said: “We can no longer be silent about the fact that some externally focused terrorist groups enjoy safe haven in Pakistan’s territory.” Perhaps, the continuity of mistrust is incongruous with the peace process in Afghanistan. To conclude, a fresh hope has been injected into the Afghan peace process. The direct talks between American diplomats and Afghan Taliban, and release of Mullah Baradar are constructive initiatives in pursuit of peace in Afghanistan.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.