Taliban-US talks

Is US-Taliban dialogue likely?

Tahir Ali

Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants to win over the moderate Taliban insurgents and leaders by offering them money, jobs, protection, and amnesty. But the million dollar question is: will his plan succeed. I think it won’t for various reasons. The strategy was used in Iraq with significant results. However it is either unlikely to happen at all or may not succeed in the war-torn Afghanistan though it probably will generate considerable debate in the media. The coalition obviously aims to divide and weaken the Taliban-led struggle. British foreign secretary David Miliband has also publicly stated that the aim of the Western countries was to divide the Taliban and overcome their resistance.

The coalition only wishes a respite in attacks against the coalition forces there and wants peace but on the basis of its own terms and desires. Will the Taliban or Hikmatyar, rather Afghans, agree to it? They, as we all know, have their preconditions to enter into a meaningful dialogue. Both Taliban and Hikmatyar –the two biggest forces that matter there –have made their support to a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio conditional with the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. And you know there is no such thing on the agenda. Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujiahid said Taliban could not be bought by money and bounties. The only political solution is that the foreign forces and the Afghan government surrender to them, he said. Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, former Afghan premier and chief of the Hezb-e-Islami, the biggest party after Taliban in Afghanistan, said that talks could be held but after withdrawal of foreign troops or assurances thereof. Karzai and other Afghan leaders have demanded that the Taliban forswear militancy before talks start. For their part, the Taliban have demanded that the Americans and other foreign forces leave the country first. Both are poles apart, how could negotiations succeed in this situation.

The plan is based on the premise that Taliban fighters are given higher salaries than the Afghanistan can afford to pay its forces. This is unproven and what is proven is that most of them live in miserable conditions. If considered in this backdrop, the whole premise of buying off the Taliban is unsound and doomed to fail. The size of the Nato-led force in Afghanistan will rise to 150,000 by year-end. But the surge alone will not ensure victory for them there. A political strategy will be needed but for that the huge gap between the opposing views of Taliban and US will have to be reconciled. It necessitates a mediator or arbiter between the two. But an arbiter usually starts work on the mutual request or consent of the parties concerned. Again, an arbiter should be a neutral and respected person or body of people and has to be given authority. This is called “Waak” in Pushto. Has any Waak been given to a third party or arbitrator? Karzai also hopes Saudi Arabia and Pakistan will play a role and support his peace and reconciliation endeavours. But it may not happen as well for some reasons. Saudi Arabia has been asked for help for its respect in Muslims. But its foreign minister Saud al-Faisal says his country will take part in Afghan peace efforts only if the Taliban denies sanctuary to al Qaeda and cuts ties with it. Will Taliban promise for that? The United States, Britain, Canada, Germany and Japan have voiced support for the plan and a negotiated peace with the Taliban. But the offer of dialogue has been restricted to the Taliban who would be ready to shun militancy. This selective application won’t work. General amnesty won’t be given so it is unlikely that militants will lay down arms and come home.

The presence of Alqaeda and American occupation of Afghanistan are the principal causes of the problem. With both showing no signs of imminent withdrawal, any hope for peace there tantamount to running after illusions. As long as Alqaeda is there, American occupation won’t leave and until its occupation continues, resistance to it will invariably go on. But the plan doesn’t address this core issue altogether. Any hope for peace and the success of this mechanism may only be just a wishful thinking. America and NATO countries always seek to divert attention from their occupation to the resultant resistance and “terrorism”. According to Richard Holbrook, the overwhelming majority of these people are not ideological supporters of Mullah Omar and al-Qaida. But that majority of fighters are not ideological fighters doesn’t mean that they are supporters of Hamid Karzai and the US occupation forces. History bears proof that Afghans have always detested foreign occupation forces. Though Karzai believes Pakistan can bring the Taliban to the negotiation table but there are indications that Pakistan’s influence and credibility in the Afghan Taliban have been on the decline ever since it joined the US war on terror. They didn’t accept its request to hand over Osama to the US; they rejected its persuasion to avoid the Bamiyan debacle; they didn’t deliver wanted Pakistanis hiding there and the like.

It is for this reason that I am strongly opposed to the claims on part of our successive governments that had Pakistan not come to the rescue of the US-led coalition in the war, it would lost the war. When our leaders boastfully say that Pakistan’s support is vital for them, they, by default, mean that it can still ensure peace in Afghanistan which I fear it’s not.

The US and Taliban would have to show restraint and avoid dangerous actions that can make negotiations impossible or halt the process if it started at all.

The latest action, operation Mushtarak in Hilmand province of Afghanistan, may further alienate the insurgents who are for dialogue with the occupation forces or Afghan government. Are they ready to do that?

(Pakistan Observer)

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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