By Sajjad Shaukat
In the last six months, after holding a number of secret meetings with the representatives of Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban’s Shura in Germany and Qatar, US officials have prepared the way for face-to-face talks between the militant group and the Afghan government.
In this regard, Reuters disclosed on December 26, 2011, “Afghanistan’s High Peace Council has set out ground rules for engaging the Taliban after the United States and Qatar had secretly agreed with the Taliban to open an office in the Qatari capital, Doha…representative office for the group is considered the starting point for such talks.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai who had objected that it had been kept in the dark about the contacts with the insurgents, has now agreed with peace talks with the Taliban.
In order to the make the negotiations with the Taliban a success, Washington has not only excluded the name of Mullah Omar from the list of most wanted terrorists, but has also been considering the transfer of a small number of Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay prison to Doha as a prelude to the negotiations.
US is so anxious and is in haste to conclude a successful peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban that it has changed its previous term of calling them terrorists. In this respect, in an interview with the Newsweek magazine in December, 2011, Vice President Joe Biden said that Taliban are “not the United States’ enemy in Afghanistan…there is not a single statement that the President has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban are our enemy because they threaten US interests.”
He told the magazine, “If the Taliban renounce Al Qaeda, then it should be possible to bring them to the table to achieve peace in Afghanistan.”
It is mentionable that during her latest visit to Islamabad on October 20, 2011, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had emphasized Islamabad to help and “encourage Taliban and Haqqani militants to enter negotiations in good faith,” adding that “Pakistan has a critical role to play in supporting Afghan reconciliation and ending the conflict.”
However, there are a number of obstacles and complexities involved in the peace deals with the Afghan insurgents. In this connection, strained relations exist between Pakistan and America since May 2, 2011 when US commandos killed Osama Bin Laden in violation of the country’s sovereignty in wake of intermittent drone attacks on Pakistani soil, blame game of cross-border terrorism against Pakistan, its army and intelligence agency, ISI, and infiltration of the US-backed militants inside Pakistan from Afghanistan. Meanwhile a number of developments such as US-led NATO air strike on Pakistan’s military outposts which killed 24 soldiers in the Mohmand agency, Islamabad’s instruction to vacate the Shamsi Airbase, boycott of the second Bonn Conference, rejection of the US investigation report in relation to the air attack and America’s freeze of $700 million aid to Islamabad added fuel to the injuries. In these circumstances, Pakistan decided to review its ties with the United States, which will be based upon mutual respect and equality.
While taking note of the complexities of the peace deals with the Afghan militants, in an interview with BBC on October 27, last year, 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 insurgents 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.
US wants that before any deal, violence against Afghan people must stop and the Taliban must cut ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. US seeks 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 because all are fighting against the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan with the same motto.
It impossible to differentiate between Taliban and Al Qaeda because of the fact that Al Qaeda has already franchised as noted in connection with the insurgents’ attacks in Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Iraq etc. Despite the death of Osama, a continued wave of suicide attacks in these countries and elsewhere in the world shows that the organization or Osama has only become an idea to motivate the local militant groups to resist the US-led forces of imperialism.
Besides, after the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014, the US seeks to keep its military bases in Afghanistan permanently to fulfill its multiple strategic interests in the region. And the Taliban’s perennial attacks on the US troops and Afghan forces will not allow the Kabul government to achieve stability in the post-2014 scenario.
It is notable that in the past, Taliban leaders had refused any dialogue with America and Afghan President Hamid Karzai until foreign troops leave Afghanistan. They can again put this condition by rejecting American military presence on limited scale.
American officials also say that the Taliban must accept the constitution and honour the gains made in the last 10 years by the Karzai regime and NATO, since they were ousted from power, but about these conditions, Taliban have shown no sign of acceptance.
Notably, Afghan government is handing over the security of some areas to the Afghan forces, while 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, with the limited support of American troops will cope with them. In this respect, Taliban may wait till the other NATO 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 accept American conditions…at present they are far stronger than Afghanistan’s police and army.”
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 destabilizing Pakistan. For this purpose, secret agencies like Indian RAW and Afghan Khad are in collusion with CIA, 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 at 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 also remain alert that New Delhi in connivance with Kabul against Washington and Islamabad will try to thwart the peace deals with the Taliban militants in Afghanistan and even Pakistan where Islamabad has offered peace talks to the Pakistani insurgents. They will also make ground to implicate Islamabad and ISI so as to further deepen the 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.
Like Ms. Clinton, Afghanistan’s High Peace Council has also emphasized that Pakistani support is necessary for peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. It is another condition which makes the task harder as already mentioned in wake of tense ties between Washington and Islamabad which apprehends that it is being shut out of the process.
Nonetheless, in light of all these complications, these talks with the Afghan Taliban will prove fruitless.
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