Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Peace Deadlock’s Impacts on the Ongoing War

Afghan officials say they expect the Taliban to join the peace process despite their recent refusal to participate in the first face-to-face talks planned to be held in Islamabad in March. The officials hope the get the talks started before it is too late to prevent further deterioration of Security situation in the country as the Taliban are preparing to launch another bloody offensive this year. Afghanistan’s foreign ministry officials believe Taliban’s refusal to come to the table of negotiations was a tactical move, and hope that the Taliban would reconsider its participation in the four-way peace initiative. Taliban’s refusal to take part in the talks stalemated the long-running efforts led by the four-nation group to kick-start peace talks with the Taliban for ending the conflict in the country.
Despite the recent remarks by government officials, there is no hint from the Taliban to suggest the group’s intentions to change their mind on the peace process and take part in the talks without any preconditions. Taliban have firmly stated that they are not going to join the peace initiative until their preconditions including withdrawal of foreign forces, end of US military operations and removal of Taliban names from the UN blacklist are met. However, both Afghan government and members of the four-nation group do not seem to be willing to consider accepting Taliban’s peace preconditions. Pakistan, as a key facilitator in the Afghan peace process, has said that Taliban’s conditions could not be met until the talks are concluded and yielded specific results. Taliban’s peace and war behaviors remain highly obscure which makes it hard to predict what game the group is playing.
Despite government’s optimisms to pursue the Taliban to join the peace talks, the prospect of the peace efforts remains uncertain and start of the talks this year seem to be less likely. The Taliban had unprecedented gains on the battleground in 2015, and the group is counting on this year to consolidate their gains and destabilize larger towns and cities across the country. This provides incentive for the Taliban to continue their insurgency and refuse to come to the peace negotiations. The obvious calculation is that the recent refusal by Taliban to join peace talks is going to undermine government’s efforts to stabilize the country while it helps Taliban to put the government under renewed pressures. Therefore, even the Taliban agree in the future to take part in the talks, there would again be delays on the side of the militant groups.
Many evidences suggested that the Taliban were ready in some points in the past to come to table of peace negotiations. They participated in a face-to-face meeting with the representatives from the Afghan government last year in Muree, Pakistan. Given this and the fact the Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor is reportedly a pro-talks figure among the Taliban senior members, the group will likely join the process to negotiate with the Afghan government. For now, the Taliban seem to be delaying the talks to indicate more strength on the battlefield.
Internal politics may be another reason for Taliban’s refusal to take part in the peace talks. The Taliban’s new leader has been facing fierce opposition from senior Taliban members over his leadership and his approach towards peace talks with the United States and the government of Afghanistan. Mullah Mansoor was rumored to favor talks when he was operating as the shadow leader of the Taliban. However, he is definitely in a different situation as the replacement of Mullah Omar. The new militant leader may be trying to consolidate his power and create consensus among senior Taliban members over war and peace issues. In addition, he led a far more successful insurgency last year despite the internal opposition from within the group. This may be another factor encouraging him to refuse joining peace talks while having an eye on the upcoming war season.
A failure or a prolonged peace deadlock would further inflame the war in the country and take violence into a higher level. The Afghan government needs to be prepared for this scenario. President Ashraf Ghani said recently that he is “knocking on every door” to pursue international backers to equip and train Afghan armed forces and provide them with more advanced weaponry. The upcoming war in the coming spring and summer seasons would possibly be much fiercer. Only Pakistan has the ability to ease the intensity of insurgency in Afghanistan by putting pressures on the leadership of the Taliban aimed at bringing them on the table of peace negotiations. If Pakistan does not exert pressures on the leadership of the group residing in the country and the insurgency intensifies in Afghanistan, it will not only derail the peace efforts but also deteriorate relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
The Taliban’s refusal to join the peace initiative led by the four-nation group also is threatening the whole peace initiative and the efforts to start negotiations with the Taliban. Unexpected rise of Taliban attacks, high rate of casualties and other adverse developments could easily doom the peace process into failure and affect the cooperation among the four-way group countries. The four-way initiative is perhaps the most viable peace plan so far tested for establishing cooperation among key external players. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan need to do more to salvage the four-way initiative from failing. Pakistan should ensure it exerts sufficient pressures on the leaders of the Taliban whose families are residing in the country.
The upcoming war season will be decisive in determining if the Taliban will join peace talks in the future. The Afghan government needs to ensure better management of war affairs and military leadership of the security forces to prevent the Taliban from making any substantial military gains. Military defeats on the battlefield can better persuade the Taliban to join the peace negotiations aimed at ending the long-lasting conflict in the country.