After fourteen years of warfare and utter destruction of life and property, we now have reached the point of ‘restoration of peace’ in Afghanistan through dialogue.
It is an irony of history to see how utterly frivolous the decade of war has ultimately turned out to be. Not only are the Taliban — the very ‘savage’ force this war was fought against — being coaxed into accepting an offer of share in power, but the very process of peace dialogue is being presented as a sign of success.
Yes, it is a success! The dirty war is certainly inching towards its end. But the end does not appear to be better than the war itself because the ‘savage Talib’ is again on the rise.
However, the ‘savage Talib’ is no longer a ‘terrorist,’ he is an ‘insurgent’ now. Amid cheers of peace, the common Afghan continues to suffer materially and non-materially as there is hardly anyone to listen to what he has to say about what he wants for his country. The so-called peace process excludes him and consequently reduces him into insignificance.
It is not to suggest that the war should not come to an end. But what do we do when the end itself starts becoming a matter of grave concern — a new problem in itself to deal with? The so-called ‘peace process’, which Pakistani officials hailed as ‘ground-breaking’, is a recipe of political domination of Afghanistan in geo-political sense.
The fact that all stake-holders — Afghan Government, Pakistan, China and the U.S. — do want to insert the Taliban into Afghanistan’s body politic speaks volumes about the hollowness of this entire ‘peace process’ and the notion of development.
“If the Taliban are to return to power, why was the war fought for fourteen long years?” asked a young Afghan living in the suburbs of Islamabad as a refugee. For him, things are moving in the wrong direction.
It is quite evident that the Taliban are not simply interested in getting some ‘share’ in power. Neither do they want nor do they bother about parliamentary democracy.
Political domination through warfare and fear is the only method they have historically learnt. This is thanks to the critical support the Islamic Republic of Pakistan lent to the establishment of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, which continues to echo strongly in Afghanistan. This support, unfortunately though, continues till today politically and militarily.
Although Pakistan initially denied any political involvement other than just being an organizer in the ‘peace process’ initiated in July, its involvement and role became evident at the recently held summit of Shanghai Co-operation Organization where it presented itself as the basic initiator of the dialogue.
It turned out to be necessary for Pakistan to ‘expose’ its role to demonstrate its capacity to bring the opposite parties to the negotiation table.
Although foreign ministry of Pakistan repeatedly reminded that it acted exclusively as a mediator in the process, the very fact that the organization of negotiations between the authorized persons became possible at all testifies to strong and confidential contacts of Islamabad with the leadership of the Taliban, and the significance of its influence on their ‘movement.’
Their ‘movement’, in effect, is as strong today as it was a few years ago. We can assess the Taliban’s strength from a very recent incident. On 26 July, the Taliban took control of a large police base in a remote part of north-eastern Afghanistan after some 100 police and border guards surrendered and reportedly joined the militants following three days of fighting.
The loss of the Tirgaran base in Badakhshan province late Saturday marked the largest mass surrender since the US and NATO forces concluded their combat mission at the end of last year. Although the Taliban released all captives later on, the incident shows how powerful a force they continue to be.
Again last Monday, the ‘insurgents’ overran a large district in Sar-i-Pul Province, in the northwest, when a local police unit surrendered after a 10-day battle, provincial officials said.
Several of the district’s civil officials, along with the garrison of 200 soldiers, then retreated to a city in a neighbouring province. Similarly, a renewed Taliban push has also imperilled Kunduz, the second most important city in the north, which sits near the border with Tajikistan.
On Monday, the Taliban seized towns on the outskirts of the city and took control of scores of villages in a district to its southeast.
It is an irony that the Taliban’s ‘spring offensive’ continues amid talks of dialogue and peace. It was preceded by an attack on Afghan Parliament and it is being accompanied by some other different attacks.
It is strange to note that all actors involved in Afghanistan are showing their readiness to help broker peace in Afghanistan although the Taliban are not going to cease fire any time soon. As a matter of fact, the possibility of cease-fire was clearly rejected by the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar.
Following the first round of talks, Mullah Omar’s views were published by one of Pakistan’s leading English daily, which quoted: “It remains obligatory upon us to continue our sacred Jihad to liberate our beloved homeland and restore an Islamic system.”
Although the news of the death of Mullah Omar is in circulation, the views expressed in his name still reflect what the Taliban think as an organization.
The statement was released by the Taliban sources and, as such, cannot be rejected as false because it is a strong reflection of the Taliban’s strategy of capturing power through military means.
Above cited incidents undoubtedly prove that this strategy is still very much operational.
It is not clear as to how and when the Taliban would agree to cease fire to seriously engage in a dialogue. Dialogue and negotiations in the shadow of ‘spring offensive’ are most likely to end in failure.
Continuation of ‘spring offensive’ notwithstanding, the Taliban’s basic demands, too, remain the same: the departure of foreign forces, constitutional changes, the release of prisoners, and the removal of the Taliban from the United Nations sanctions list.
Again, it is still not clear how the Afghan government can possibly manage to continue dialogue if the Taliban continue to insist on complete departure of all foreign forces.
With the Taliban still standing as a strong force and with all of their major demands remaining unchanged, Afghanistan government’s insistence on the necessity of dialogue seems to be an unreal attempt unlikely to succeed.
One can assess the fragility of the dialogue from the fact that the Taliban have long refused to acknowledge the very constitution that provides legitimacy to the Afghan government.
Even if dialogue has to be the way to end the war, it can succeed only when some of the basic demands of both parties are met. For the Afghan government, nothing is more basic than cessation of fire. Departure of all foreign troops from the Afghan soil is the minimum the Taliban would agree to.
Salman Rafi Sheikh is a freelance journalist and research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His area of interest is South and West Asian politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics.
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