Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Taliban’s Refusal of the Peace Plan

Taliban’s refusal to take part in the anticipated peace talks in Islamabad indicates the complexity and difficulty of a process that is supposed to end a long-lasting bloody conflict in Afghanistan. The Taliban announced on Saturday it would not participate in the peace talks brokered by the four-nation group unless its preconditions are met. In a statement released by a Taliban spokesman, the group has insisted on its repeatedly-stated preconditions such as withdrawal of foreign forces, release of Taliban prisoners and removing names of Taliban members from UN blacklist.
Despite the broad expectations for start of direct peace negotiations in the timeframe set by the four-nation group, the Taliban refusal to participate in the talks is quite understandable. It should not be coming as surprising as peace negotiations are generally complicated and often face challenges. The peace efforts in Afghanistan have been particularly intricate and have been pursued in through a wrong approach. Even the ongoing four-nation peace initiative has had its shortcomings and was established based on wishful procedures and timeframe. The initiative has been largely praised for establishing a mechanism for cooperation among some key states to help in bringing peace in Afghanistan. However, it seems to have made mistakes in the very first place by unilaterally setting a timeframe for resumption of peace negotiations.
No need to mention that any peace initiative not meeting the requirements for start of negotiations will face deadlocks. The four-nation initiative has been and will be the right establishment for paving the way for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. However, the process will require excruciating back-channel talks in the first place to pursue Taliban to come to the table of negotiations. This should have been done before setting a date and venue for face-to-face talks and making the plan public. Such challenges are expected even through a more viable and pragmatic process. Both the Taliban and the four-nation group will not consider the Taliban’s refusal to take part in the talks as the end of the process.
The deadlock at the very starting phase of the initiative suggests the intricacy and difficulty of peace talks with the militant groups. It is a known fact that Pakistan does not have ultimate influence over the various Afghan militant groups whose leaders are residing in the country. However, the Taliban’s refusal to send a representative for first face-to-face talks suggest that Islamabad may also have limited influence over the main Taliban group, led by Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor. Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban would only work if used through a right mechanism and ensuring that Islamabad would use force if the Taliban does not join peace talks.
However, it is unclear yet whether Pakistan would take serious action against the militant leaders if they continue to refuse to negotiate with the government of Afghanistan. It is going to put Pakistan’s resolve into test if the Taliban continue to reject the peace plan set up by the four-nation group.
This depends whether Pakistan has a genuine will for helping the peace efforts in Afghanistan. From another perspective, the Taliban’s refusal to come to the talks may serve Pakistan’s stance on the Afghan peace efforts. Pakistan has long been insisting it has no absolute influence over the militant groups. The recent move by the Taliban corroborates the claim, and could be used by Islamabad in the course of possible peace talks in the future.
The move by the Taliban is calculated and serves the group’s interests in the war and peace developments in the country. The militants feel to be in an upper position in the war against the government. The Taliban seem to be using the tactic of time-buying aimed at both frustrating the government of Afghanistan and waiting for another season of fighting to wage violence. The Taliban know well that time is racing against the government’s interests and in favor of the militants. The next summer fighting will likely further cement Taliban’s military gains achieved last year. This is while the Afghan government is negotiating from a weaker stance as it has failed to exert sufficient military pressures on the militant groups. Even the Taliban agree in the future to take part in the talks, there will delays on the side of the militant groups as it would serve its interests in both the peace politics and on the battleground.
The initial failure to pursue Taliban into coming to the table of negotiations does not mean that the Taliban will not join peace talks. Ahead of the disclosure of the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar last year and the split that followed, the Taliban hinted readiness for peace negotiations with the Afghan government. The Taliban may come back at some point in the future but it would take more time and efforts and provision of concessions to them. The government of Afghanistan may find it inevitable to consider concessions for the militants such as release of prisoners and removal of Taliban names from UN terror blacklist.
Taliban’s refusal to attend talks with no doubt would further complicate the peace process and leave it susceptible to other surprise disruptions caused by adverse military and political developments such as eruption of a new wave of insurgency and possible deterioration of relations between Kabul and Islamabad.