Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Taliban Delegation in Pakistan

A Taliban delegation from the Qatar political office is in Pakistan to have talks with Pakistani officials over Afghanistan’s peace process and some demands of the Taliban from the Pakistani government. The Afghan government has confirmed the travel of the Taliban high-profile delegation to Pakistan; however, there are confusions over the mission of the Taliban delegation and if they are going to talk over peace negotiations with the Afghan government. In a statement send to the media, the Taliban said that the delegation will hold talks with Pakistani officials over Afghan refugees in Pakistan, border issues and Taliban’s demand for release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a top Taliban member arrested by Pakistan in 2010. However, Afghan sources have also said that the delegation have arrived on Pakistan’s invitation and will hold preliminary talks with Pakistani officials over peace in Afghanistan. Despite the Taliban’s official statement claiming the aim of the visit to be issues other than the Afghan peace process, it is obvious the Taliban delegation has come to Islamabad to talk with Pakistani officials over peace negotiations with the government of Afghanistan. Pakistan is believed to have been trying to engage with the Taliban leaders and persuade them to come to the table of peace negotiations with the Afghan government. As a member of the four-nation initiative coordinating peace efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan has committed to invite Taliban leaders and exert pressures over them to join the process. However, exactly when the Taliban was expected to take part in a pre-planned peace meeting in Islamabad, the group refused to join the four-way peace initiative, dealing a major blow to the months-long effort of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States. The visit of the Taliban delegation seems to have taken place in request and under pressures of the Pakistani government, trying to bring the Taliban leaders to table of peace negotiations. Shortly after the conclusion of the four-way peace plan, Pakistan called on the Taliban to join the process, and later observers and media reports suggested Pakistan were trying the exert pressures on the group to take part in the process. The Taliban refusal to join the peace talks and the group’s massive bombing in Kabul city led the Afghan officials to take a harder stance against the group and distance itself from considering Islamabad as a mediator to persuade Taliban to join peace talks. However, Pakistani officials insist the country was committed to play its part in the efforts to kick-start the peace process. Despite the start of the bloody fighting season, the four-way peace initiative does not seem to have become dead and the efforts to revive the stalled talks continue by the members of the four-nation coordination group. Despite toughening stance in the fight against the Taliban, President Ashraf left the door open for the Taliban to join the talks, tacitly saying only some parts of the Taliban were “murderers” and irreconcilable. He was explicit in saying that the Afghan government will be always prepared for talks with those Taliban who care for lives of Afghans and are willing to negotiate peace in the country. The change in tone and policy of the Afghan government against the Taliban would definitely not weaken the peace process rather it would further strengthen the position of the Afghan government in the future peace talks with the Taliban and other militants. It is premature to say if the recent relatively successful government campaign has had any impact on Taliban to soften stance and approach the Pakistani government for taking in the peace talks with the government of Afghanistan. However, it could be that the Taliban may have somehow tasted their recent military setbacks. A robust military campaign will undoubtedly boost government stance and help it to negotiate from a stronger position when the peace process start in future. The Afghan government needs to realize the points of its strengths and wait for the right time for resumption of peace talks along with leading a strong military campaign against the Taliban. Only a failure to make gains on the ground will force the Taliban to see peace talks as an option for having a future role in the future of the country. Pakistan is said to have contacted the Taliban in recent months and warned the group either to join the peace process or face consequences. The Taliban is believed to have denied so far Pakistan’s recent pressures. However, the Taliban cannot afford defiance of Pakistan’s formal stance in the peace process and the country’s call on the group to join the process. Afghanistan claims that Taliban senior leadership reside in major Pakistani cities and enjoy security and services there. The government in Islamabad can simply expel the Afghan Taliban from the country or detain them. However, both Pakistan and Afghan Taliban are not considering this as a possible scenario as both needs to talk and cooperate over the Afghan peace process. Pakistan needs to prove its sincerity in helping Afghanistan’s peace process. Pakistan must remain committed to its pledge to put pressures on the Taliban for peace talks or take military action against the group’s leadership in the country. It is important for both countries to avoid deterioration of relations and work closely on revival of the peace process.