WHILE the prospects of peace in Afghanistan appear tantalisingly near, the fact is that much ground needs to be covered before a lasting end to the decades-old conflict in that country can be reached. Even as the US and Afghan Taliban interlocutors have been engaging in shuttle diplomacy over the past several months, with the Qatari capital Doha the usual venue for their rendezvous, the insurgents have been continuing their violent activities inside Afghanistan. Last week, the Taliban announced the start of the ‘spring offensive’, a dreaded annual ritual that signals the start of the fighting season as the weather in Afghanistan turns warmer. The offensive comes in the wake of an operation launched by the Kabul government against the Taliban last month. Moreover, as the Taliban and the Kabul government continue to fight, the UN has lifted a travel ban on a number of senior figures of the militia, ostensibly to allow them to attend peace talks.
To many, it might appear strange that the Afghan Taliban are suing for peace on the one hand, and continuing to wage war on the other. However, such tactics have been used by both states and insurgents throughout history, and are part of strategic calculations. From the outside, it appears that the Taliban are continuing with their violent activities in order to approach the Americans from a ‘position of strength’ at the negotiating table. Though the ethical and moral justification for this practice may be questionable, the fact is that the Taliban have managed to sustain their campaign against the US-backed Kabul government, and the only way to end the violence would be to keep engaging with the group and bring them to terms. The onus is on the Americans to expedite the peace process so that a negotiated settlement can be reached. However, the Taliban’s insistence of keeping out the Afghan government is unacceptable; they must shed their rigidity and talk to the elected government in Kabul. In fact, in the next phase of negotiations, Ashraf Ghani’s representatives and those of the Taliban should meet directly, facilitated by regional states and the international community. Ultimately, foreign elements can play a supporting role, but the peace process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. And where needed, Pakistan can offer its good offices to help end this bloody war, that has not only affected Afghanistan, but has also had a major impact on this country.
Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2019