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Taliban warm-up for talks

Pakistan Focus Analysis

Long awaited talks between the Taliban and the sitting Afghan government are about to begin. In all probability some understanding was reached between the Taliban and Americans in this context well before the 2014 elections in Afghanistan. Taliban gave a walkover to the electoral process in exchange with some assurances.  Afghan Taliban leadership has approved initiation of preliminary peace talks with Afghan government. Taliban representatives conducting talks with Pakistan and China have received a green signal from their top leadership. imagesPakistan has advised Taliban leaders to sit face-to-face with the Afghan government and put their demands to find out a political solution. To move the process ahead, a small delegation affiliated with the Taliban political office in Doha is expected to visit Pakistan soon for exploring ways for the proposed peace dialogue. Some Afghan Taliban leaders have warned that the Afghan government should not be bypassed in any proposed dialogue as such moves had failed in the past. And that withdrawal of all foreign troops should top the talks’ agenda as there could be no peace until all foreign forces quit Afghanistan. Taliban leaders could face some resistance from hardliners who are not in favour of dialogue, the leadership would find it difficult to convince those fighting in the battlefield. Some Taliban leaders parted ways with the movement when the Doha office opened and formed splinter groups.

Senior Afghan government officials are optimistic about the peace talks after Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif assured President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Dr Abdullah Abdullah that Pakistan shall cooperate with Kabul in the reconciliation process.index A statement issued by the Afghan Presidential Palace also said President Ghani has appreciated Pakistan’s recent efforts in paving the ground for peace and reconciliation. “We welcome the recent position Islamabad has taken in pronouncing Afghanistan’s enemy as Pakistan’s enemy,” the statement added.During the recent Pakistan-Turkey summit, both sides explored options to assist Afghanistan in reaching a peace agreement with the Taliban. Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu had an extensive agenda, including looking beyond bilateral cooperation and playing a role in stabilising Afghanistan. Due to Turkic demographic belt running from West Asia to East Asia through Afghanistan, Turkey has an abiding interest in peace and stability in Afghanistan. Turkey has been playing an active role to keep the Afghan crisis manageable; it hosts a whole range of events viz Istanbul, Ankara, and Heart of Asia processes to keep the diplomacy in motion. Moreover, during Karzai era, whenever Afghanistan and Pakistan fell apart, Turkey took upon itself to bridge the gap. Turkey would have been the most suitable venue to host political office of Taliban, but the forces that be thought that such office should be located to a place where Pakistan’s influence over the Afghan events could be lesser—an absurd idea. Nevertheless, no matter where talks take place between the Taliban and the Unites States as well as the Taliban and the Afghan government, Turkey shall always be remembered as a pioneer of these peace process—from conceptual through operational stages. Pakistan appreciates Turkey’s effort for bringing enduring peace in Afghanistan, and hopes that it will continue to play its constructive role.

Turkey has expressed its satisfaction with the new phase of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Turkish Prime Minister said that there is a trilateral connection between Turkey-Pakistan-Afghanistan and that he was glad to see such a high level of collaboration between Afghani and Pakistani leaders.3 PMs file foto Now the Afghan government is in contact with the Taliban to explore options for a possible peace deal. It is too early to extrapolate the profile of such parleys, however, simultaneous contacts between the US and Taliban in Doha indicate that the initiative has taken off, and matters could be at a fairly advanced stage. Nevertheless, this is a very difficult path—filled with numerous landmines. Pakistan has finally managed to bring these parties to negotiating tables. President Ghani has welcomed Pakistan’s initiative to help in the reconciliation process. In retrospect, it is now evident that Americans and the Taliban have maintained contacts since the setting up of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, though this office was formally declared ‘closed down’ after the then Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, objected to a plaque identifying the building as the office of ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Thence after, ice breaking direct contact between President Ghani’s administration and the Taliban became possible after months of behind-the-scene efforts by Pakistan as well as China. Earlier the US had tried to broker peace between the Taliban and the Ghani administration, but the Taliban were not amenable to American mediation. Pakistan played a positive and constructive role in bringing the two sides to the negotiating table.

So far Islamabad’s role was strictly confined to facilitation, and it is doing whatever it could; now it is up to the Taliban and the Afghan government to reach an appropriate agreement. The two sides are exploring options, including the venue for formal talks. Beijing; Dubai and Islamabad are under consideration for this purpose. China has offered to host the talks between the Taliban and Afghan government. Taliban have already warmed up to the Chinese offer and a two-member Taliban delegation has already paid an unannounced visit to Beijing in November 2014. A member of this team has also visited Pakistan.

Pakistan is ready to support in all sincerity the Afghan reconciliation process; however, the process has to be transparent, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Pakistan has all along been of the view that it is for the Afghan government to lead efforts for reconciliation. Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani is expected to visit Islamabad soon, to coordinate efforts for restoring and speeding-up the peace processes in Afghanistan. Salahuddin has the advantage that he also heads the Afghan High Peace Council; and thus what he says abroad, he will be able to sell it at home as well. Pakistani and Afghan leadership has reached a conclusion to start joint efforts to counter militancy. Especially, the attacks on the Army Public School and Paktika’s Yahya Khel area have strengthened commitment in both countries to jointly fight against terrorism and extremism.

On another peace track, to earn the Chinese good will, Afghan security personnel have arrested and handed over several Uighur separatist militants from China’s restive Xinjiang region in an effort to persuade Beijing to use its influence with Pakistan to help start negotiations with the Taliban. “We offered our hand in cooperation with China and in return we asked them to pressure Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban or at least bring them to the negotiating table,” said one Afghan security official. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who recently visited Islamabad, indicated his country’s willingness to help the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. China’s entry into Afghan peace process was long overdue; this will help the sustainability of the peace process, because China is perceived as an honest peace broker by all. As the peace move is likely to pick up in the coming weeks, Afghan president has stepped up consultations with stakeholders in his country to evolve consensus.

While speaking at a joint press conference along with Prime Minister Nawaz, Turkish PM announced an assistance of 20 million dollars for the temporarily displaced persons, as a result of military operation—Zarb-e-Azb— in North Waziristan. Over one million people were uprooted after the security forces launched a major offensive against the Taliban and other militant groups in the region. Feeling the pain of the displaced people is reflective of the depth of people to people empathy Turkey has for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Our dear Trump, “the most genius and most stable”, may be trying to cut the trunk of the tree on which successive American administration have been investing heavily. Richard G. Olson, former US ambassador to Pakistan and former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in his opinion piece, “How Not to Engage with Pakistan”, for the New York Times on January 09, aptly commented: “While perhaps it is emotionally satisfying to penalize a country that has supported American enemies in Afghanistan for the past 16 years, the administration’s approach is unlikely to work…The harsh truth is that American leverage over Rawalpindi and Islamabad has been declining… Thus, the Trump administration’s attempt at humiliating and penalizing Pakistan is unlikely to work. Pakistan, like most countries, reacts very badly to public attempts to force its hand. It is likely to respond by showing how it can truly undercut our position in Afghanistan….” Any listeners in the US? Probably none, at least for the time being. Through a series of major counter-terrorism operations, Pakistan has cleared all these areas resulting in elimination of organized terrorist presence leading to significant improvement in security situation in Pakistan. Pakistan’s peace efforts are awaiting reciprocal actions from the Afghan side in terms of clearance of vast stretches of ungoverned spaces on the Afghan side, bilateral border management, repatriation of Afghan refugees, controlling poppy cultivation, drug trafficking and initiating Afghan led and owned political reconciliation in Afghanistan.

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