THE Quadrilateral Coordination Group on Afghanistan has produced something of a surprise: talks with the Afghan Taliban are to resume by the end of the month.
With the fighting season in Afghanistan rapidly approaching, delayed talks would have meant the possibility of the Taliban making fresh gains on the battlefield and therefore being in a stronger position for delayed talks.
Now it appears that talking and fighting will take place simultaneously, giving the Afghan government and the QCG some additional leverage at the negotiating table — or at least not losing further ground to the Taliban at the outset. Also sensible is the reported phased approach to a peace process.
Part of the delay in resuming peace talks was known to be the Afghan government’s insistence that Pakistan take action against so-called irreconcilables among the Taliban, some of whom are thought to be based in Pakistan. In recent weeks, there has been some suggestion that the US too was looking for Pakistani action against the Haqqani network and parts of the Taliban.
Both the Afghan demands and American suggestions were deeply problematic — a peace process should begin by identifying those willing to reconcile rather than singling out those unwilling to do so.
It now appears that better sense has prevailed as the QCG joint press release over the weekend once again mentioned “Taliban groups” — a formulation that does not at least rule out any factions. Yet, the very mention of ‘Taliban groups’, used since the first joint press release of the QCG in January, suggests a difficult road ahead. How many groups are there?
Who leads them? And which ones are inclined to come to the negotiation table? The fracturing of the Afghan Taliban has possibly added to the logic of a negotiated peace — can factions and small groups really wage endless war against a state that while weak is not collapsing?
But it will also make the peace process more difficult to manage. A fractured Taliban means multiple leaders, each with agendas of their own. The QCG’s intensive diplomatic efforts will need to be sustained for quite some time.
There are some early lessons to be learned, however, for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. For the Afghan side, the spells of public rancour against Pakistan need to be reconsidered.
For a year now, it has been clear that the Pakistani state is committed to helping create an intra-Afghan peace process and has wanted to work with the Afghan government to address mutual security concerns.
The Afghan side should respond with equanimity when obstacles in the peace process appear, as they will inevitably.
For the Pakistani side, the concerns about TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan should not overwhelm efforts to nudge the Afghan peace process forwards. The dividends of a successful Afghan peace process will be of an enormous magnitude and will positively impact many other national security concerns here.
Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2016