By K.N. Pandita
For some time in recent past, warring sides in Afghanistan have been in touch but without a substantial roadmap for conducting peace talks. Belated realization in the EU and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has come after re-assessment of ground situation in Afghanistan by some insightful non-state observers. Despite twelve years of hard fighting, a sizable portion of Afghan territory remains in the control of Taliban. Reliable statistics show 25 per cent increase in year to year Taliban attacks on NATO formations. Recent bombing in the heart of the capital close to High Court left 17 killed and many wounded. Comprehensive peace efforts vindicate the timely warning of Kurt Beck, the Head of German Socialist Democrat Party in 2007, in which he had called for an all-party peace meet including the Taliban. He was showed down and castigated.
The Spiegel of 21 June made the revelation of serious efforts underway for initiating peace talks with Taliban to end bloodshed in war-torn Afghanistan. On 18 June, Taliban celebrated formal opening of its office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, for conducting peace talks with the Afghan Government and the White House. This is for the first time that Taliban agreed to conduct direct talks ever since they were confronted in the Hindu Kush recesses in 2001.
Simultaneous with the announcement of Taliban opening their office in Doha, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced his readiness for takeover of security duties by the Afghan Army from ISAF. The US has already announced withdrawing around one lakh of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Wide ranging speculation followed US’ announcement of deadline for withdrawal. “What after withdrawal” became a burning subject for debate among political analysts? Nearer home, strategists and policy planners began grappling with likely implications of relent on Af-Pak front on Kashmir insurgency and political scenario in sight.
Amusingly, the signboard of the newly opened office of Taliban in Doha—-the prospective headquarter of peace talks—bears the title of ‘Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’. Taliban had phrased and used this nomenclature as long as they held power in Kabul from 1996 to 2001.
Pakistan-based radical Islamist organization Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba, operating in tandem with another terrorist outfit Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir, fondly toys with the concept of Islamic Caliphate from the Dardanelles to the Straits of Malacca in which Kashmir is to occupy integral place. However, under pressure from the US, the Taliban agreed to rephrase their Doha chapter with ‘Political Office of Afghan Taliban’.
Rephrasing of the nomenclature in response to American demand openly depicted the Taliban as a parallel government that President Karzai was now supposed to come to an agreement with about sharing power. However he would not do so unless the Taliban flag was pulled down and he was given a written commitment that the US would support him.
At the time of the US-led ISAF’s military campaign against the Taliban in 2001, it announced three primary objectives in doing so. These were (a) providing space to democratic dispensation in the region (b) safeguarding human rights and (c) fostering responsible governance in Kabul. But both the EU and the US being skeptical of ever reaching close to these ambitious targets, seem contented with shifting the goalpost to bare formal commitment by the Taliban of not fostering international terrorism and/or seeking refuge in the Af-Pak region. If that commitment comes off and sticks, it may bring partial relief to the Indian concerns in Kashmir.
Eventually among Afghan Taliban, the theory of moderate versus radical Taliban boils down to the concept of Al-Qaida supported global Islamic empire as against Kabul-based Taliban power centre. Nevertheless what unites both is imposition of Islamic order with sword. Last week, two children were decapitated in southern province of Kandahar for alleged spying against Taliban. The critical region of concentration and control of globalist Taliban is the present Af-Pak region.
Success of impending talks is highly debatable because in the first place President Hamid Karzai demurs US’ formal positing of Taliban in parity with Kabul regime in the proposed negotiations. Karzai even threatened to withdraw his delegation unless the US made formal commitment of its support to his regime.
But on the other hand, Taliban have the advantage of assertive posture in contemplated peace talks. Haqqani group, the most powerful component of Taliban, is reacting half-heartedly to this initiative. Additionally, the Taliban have the formidable bargaining chip of an American Srgt. Bowe Bergdawl being in their captivity. Recently New York Times reported a Taliban interlocutor saying that “exchange will build bridges of understanding”. He might be referring to five top Taliban war prisoners languishing in Guantanamo prison.
In all probability, the Quetta Shura operating from Pakistan would lead the Taliban delegation to Doha peace talks. Mulla Muhammad Omar, who was the Taliban points-man during their regime in Kabul, and had been driven out with their fall, is likely to occupy the centre stage of Taliban come back.
“The likely broad contours of negotiations in Doha may veer around forming a new Afghan government with the Taliban as part of it. In return for official political recognition, Karzai and US President Barack Obama demand that the Taliban profess allegiance to the Afghan constitution of 2004. But the Islamists only recognize a 1,300-year-old document as their constitution: This, of course, makes it difficult to find a compromise,” writes the Spiegel.
Before concluding this expose, it is important to state that Pakistan has very important role in the entire process of negotiations. In essence, Taliban is the creation of Pakistani policy planners. Some of their diehard radical groups are not only funded but also deeply influenced by ISI. Pakistani Taliban, though apparently operating on Pakistani soil, have no hesitation in enlarging their sphere of activity westward or eastward because with Pakistani army committed to their agenda, they have considerable space for independent or proffered action. Lastly, to presume that installation of a joint power structure in Kabul would reduce or eliminate insurgency in Kashmir is only a wishful thinking. Kashmir insurgents are fully controlled by the ISI. They receive the roadmap of their action on the ground not from Taliban but from the ISI. Therefore the Indians will have little rather no justification to feel unperturbed after the exit of ISAF from Af-Pak region. From Indian viewpoint the crux of the matter has to be the handling of domestic policy by the PML (N) regime in Islamabad.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).