After its failure in a prolonged war against the Taliban militants in Afghanistan and after opposing Pakistan’s Swat agreement including peace move with the insurgents in other tribal regions in 2008, the United States has decided to bring the insurgents to the peace table with the help of Islamabad. No doubt, every conflict ends in a negotiated solution, but in case of Afghanistan, it is a tough challenge which involves a number of complexities.
During her two-day visit to Islamabad on October 20, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with Islamabad’s stand that launching “new military operation in North Waziristan does not suit Pakistan’s situation” and there are “other means for tackling the issue of militancy through intelligence sharing including the reconciliation process.”
Although in a careful diplomatic style in wake of perennial blame game of the US high officials against Pakistan in relation to Haqqani network and Pakistan’s intelligence ISI—accusing behind the September 20 assault on the American embassy in Kabul, Ms. Clinton asked Pakistan to take “strong steps to dismantle safe havens of insurgents,” yet she stressed on Islamabad to help and “encourage Taliban and Haqqani militants to enter negotiations in good faith.” She also realised that “Pakistan has a critical role to play in supporting Afghan reconciliation and ending the conflict.”
Even in Kabul, Ms. Clinton insisted Afghanistan’s distrustful leadership to keep up Taliban reconciliation efforts and boost counterterrorism co-operation with Pakistan.
After reaching Washington, Hillary Clinton gave various statements before the US media and Congress, saying that she has delivered a frank message to Pakistan that it was urgent to act against the extremist Haqqani network, which she blamed for anti-US attacks in Afghanistan, but these statements were politically-motivated and in fact, Washington has finally decided to have dialogue with the militants in order to facilitate the US objectives in Afghanistan before its complete withdrawal in 2014.
On the other side, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership has also decided to begin a reconciliation process with the Pakistani insurgents. In this respect, even Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani stated on October 18 that Pak Army had no objection over the government, having dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban.
However, one of the important complexities of the peace talks with the militants of Afghanistan is that these dialogues cannot be successful in wake of US threats and pressure. In this connection Ms. Clinton also warned that tough action would have to be taken against Afghan and Pakistani militants, if they did not cooperate in efforts of reconciliation and to stabilise Afghanistan.
In this context, the US and Afghan troops have recently launched “enhanced operations” against the Afghan guerrillas in Afghanistan’s Khost province near the Pakistani region. US troops equipped with heavy weapons have massed along the border with Pakistan’s North Waziristan to launch a new push against the Haqqani group, while US continues drones strikes intermittently in that area to keep the insurgents under pressure.
Meanwhile, on October 25, a senior Haqqani commander told Reuters that the Afghan Haqqani insurgents will not take part individually in any peace talks with the United States which will not be able to find a possible solution to the Afghan conflict unless they hold talks with the Taliban shura—led by the Taliban leadership. Viewing Hillary Clinton’s efforts with skepticism, he revealed, “Americans had made several attempts for talks which we rejected as we are an integral part of the Taliban led by Mullah Omar…we are united to liberate our homeland-Afghanistan from the occupying forces.”
It is notable that in the past, Taliban leaders had refused any dialogue with the US and Afghan President Hamid Karzai until foreign troops leave Afghanistan. They can again put this condition.
Another complexity of the peace talks is that US wants to distinguish between Al-Qaeda-related fighters and Afghan insurgents—good and bad Taliban, but it is much obscured matter as there is no scale to differentiate between them as all are fighting against the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan with the same motto.
While, Afghan government is handing over the security of some areas to the Afghan forces as part of the withdrawal of the foreign troops—and full security control of Afghanistan to the Afghan army by the end of 2014. Now, question also arises that if well-trained US-led NATO forces, equipped with sophisticated weaponry could not succeed in defeating the Afghan militants as to how Afghan forces will cope with them. In this respect, Taliban may wait till the US troops withdraw from that country.
According to a defence analyst, “The Taliban are now a battle-hardened guerrilla group…whom many believe have little incentive to talk; at present they are far stronger than Afghanistan’s police and army.”
As regards the peace process with the insurgents, British former Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in an article, published in the Khaleej Times on October 24, “Basque separatist group ETA is finally ending 50 years of violence. It is a victory for the people of Spain and the Basque regions of Spain and France…in particular Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero has taken courageous risks for peace and paid a heavy political price…with the cooperation of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Zapatero also never stopped offering the hand of peace.”
Blair further elaborated, “Terrorist groups are rarely defeated by military means alone. I learned from our experience in Northern Ireland that ending violence, and making peace requires patience, taking risks, suffering setbacks, a constant commitment and statesmanship. In Spain these qualities have been demonstrated by all and will be needed to secure a lasting peace.”
But, in case of Afghan Taliban, US needs more patience and tolerance instead of following a war-mongering diplomacy, full of threats as unlike the insurgency of Spain and Northern Ireland of UK, there are a number of intricacies involved in Afghanistan.
President Karzai knows that if the US-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, his regime will fall like a house of cards due to stiff resistance of Afghan Taliban. Even India will not be in a position to maintain its network, and its investment-projects will also not succeed in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban.
Openly, India and Afghanistan signed a strategic agreement on October 5 this year. But secretly, India which has already spent billion of dollars in Afghanistan, wants to further strengthen its grip in that country so as to get strategic depth against Islamabad, and also to use the war-torn country in destabilising Pakistan. For this purpose, secret agencies like Indian RAW and Afghan Khad are in collusion and have been sending well-trained militants in Pakistan, who not only attack the check posts of Pakistan’s security forces, but also commit other subversive acts in various places of Pakistan.
At present, President Karzai favours dialogue with the Afghan Taliban, but his continued blame game including that of his high officials against Islamabad regarding cross-border terrorism and ISI, accusing Pakistan for the killing of Afghan peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabban is not without some hidden agenda. So America should remain alert that New Delhi and Kabul in connivance against Washington and Islamabad will try to fail the peace deals with the Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will also make ground to implicate Islamabad and ISI, re-creating a rift in Pak-US ties. Thus India and Karzai could entrap the US permanently in Afghanistan in order to achieve their secret designs by damaging American global and regional interests.
Some political experts argue that the Afghan Taliban are irreconcilable because “stocked hatred, opening old wounds and deepening ethnic tensions in an already volatile country like Afghanistan where fear of civil war is growing after the withdrawal of foreign forces.
Notably, in an interview with BBC on October 27, ISPR spokesman Maj-Gen. Athar Abbas pointed out that Pakistan has “not been informed and taken into confidence on a possible roadmap of the reconciliation process so far” with the militants and “what are its objectives.” He further indicated, “We cannot guarantee the success of the reconciliation process because none of the militant groups is in our pocket” or enters Afghanistan from Pakistan’s soil.
Reliable sources suggest that taking note of the complexities, on October 24, Pakistan has told the United States that it is ready to facilitate its talks with the Afghan Taliban, but cannot become a guarantor of success for the negotiating process.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations