WEB DESK: Challenged by Afghan Taliban’s two high-profile recent offensives in Kunduz and Helmand provinces the government in Kabul and its principal supporter, the United States, are believed to have decided to revisit the option of reviving the peace talks with insurgents.
Reportedly, there have been two rounds of secret talks in Qatar between the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government.
The first round took place in early last month and the second now, with American presence in both. But there is no indication whatsoever that Pakistan and China, who are members of the now dormant Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group, were invited, suggesting this is a new forum, possibly a rival to the QCG, to which a new set of Afghan Taliban leadership has been invited.
At both the meetings, the Taliban side was represented by Mulla Abdul Manan, the brother of the late Mulla Omar, while from the Afghan government side the interlocutor was Afghan intelligence chief Masoom Stanekzai. Mulla Omar’s son Mohammad Yaqoob is also expected to join these negotiations if and as they progress. But it is not clear if these meetings enjoy sponsorship of the present Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzade. In case they do not, then impression emerges that some kind of an effort is afoot to divide the Afghan Taliban movement, as happened to be the case following the death of Mulla Akhtar Mansoor in a US drone strike.
Masoom Stanekzai is known to have an interaction with these Taliban members last year in Chinese city of Urumqi also. The game plan now seems to be not only to keep China and Pakistan out of the Afghan peace process but also to bring yet another Taliban leadership to the fore. However, given the sensitivity of the development – or the lingering stigma of failure of such moves in the past – both the Afghan Taliban and Kabul have denied these meetings – though only laconically. That the meetings took place in the Qatari capital both the spokesmen for President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Taliban say they do not know.
On the face of it two motivations seem to have inspired revival of peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. One, the United States’ war weariness – to it having spent some $800 billion over the last 15 years and sacrifice of thousands of American lives a clear victory over the insurgents remains an ever-receding mirage. On the ground, the Afghan army still remains far short of its registered and paid strength. It is plagued with crises of leadership and massive desertions and in quite a few cases even unwilling to fight the insurgents.
Among its generalship corruption is rampant, much to the anguish of American taxpayers. Consequently, today the Afghan Taliban are in control of far more territory than what they had when the coalition forces began pulling out from Afghanistan. What to talk of besieging cities of Kunduz and Lashkar Gah even Kabul is now within the striking distance of the insurgents. Then divisions and schisms along ethnic and political lines as Ghani-Abdullah power struggle intensifies have begun to emerge.
Two, the leadership in Kabul seems to have concluded that if rapprochement with Taliban is so much an inescapable reality then why it should share credit for this with Pakistan and China, the two who are part of the Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group. In place of the QCG, the Ghani establishment would like to have a platform, and to win over to its side the Taliban by saying ‘since you want the United States to be out of Afghanistan so let Washington head the peace parleys’.
“If these three sides can hold preliminary meetings it could create a strong base for further positive developments,” a Taliban source is quoted as saying. And that is quite likely, given that their first meeting in early September “went positively and was held in a trouble-free atmosphere”.
Or, perhaps, it is America’s brainchild which has decided to get out of Afghanistan even if it warrants welcoming the Taliban to seat of power in Kabul.
Source: Business Recorder