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

No Headway in Talks with Taliban - Time for a Rethink?

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No Headway in Talks with Taliban - Time for a Rethink?

From the very beginning, it has been obvious to those who, in some measure, know Afghanistan, the Taliban and the ongoing war that talks, negotiations and reconciliation with the insurgency and the Taliban have always been easier said than done.

The latest indications in this direction has come in the form of the Taliban's spokesman, ZabihullahMujahid, divulging to the Express Tribune that, Tayyeb Agha, the Taliban's interlocutor in the recent Qatar and Germany talks, may have been an imposter, like the shopkeeper from Quetta who made away with money after being passed off as a senior Taliban leader. In a telephone interview with the Express Tribune, ZabihullahMujahid has said the person, Tayyeb Agha, is real and remains close to the Taliban leadership but has never participated in talks with the Americans.

Earlier, ZabihullahMujahid, the self-styled spokesman of the Taliban, while confirming the existence of talks between the Taliban and the Americans, had rubbished claims that the talks were carried out with the objective of finding a settlement to the long-standing conflict. He had maintained that the limited talks had been carried out for the purpose of possible prisoner transfer. The High Peace Council established last year by President Karzai to explore the path to a final reconciliation with Taliban, also remains clueless as to how to give a major push to a peace process that has remained a non-starter at best.

A fragmented insurgency
One significant problem in the way of the reconciliation efforts has been the fragmented nature of the ongoing insurgency. The insurgency (Taliban as a part of the larger insurgency) is divided into many more smaller divisions and groups each operating out of a geographic area assigned to them.

Each of the smaller divisions within the larger coalition is intensely ideologically-driven and firmly believes in the cause of pressing ahead with Jihad until the establishment of a Sharia-based Islamic State. The fact is that many multitudes of these ideologically-driven divisions, although operating under the overall military command of the leadership councils, would not accept laying down of arms by their superiors.

The reconciliation and reintegration attempts, even if successful to an extent, would have a result of breaking up the Taliban's ranks with many still determined to press ahead with their Jihad. Therefore, it would be naive to believe that the reconciliation and reintegration attempts will be able to bring about a comprehensive, across-the-board containment of the Taliban.

In addition and unfortunately, Afghangovernment's inability and the visible American reluctance to take the lead in forging a sweeping regional consensus on the issue of Afghan war are potent factors that will work to make the conflict in Afghanistan a long war of attrition dragging on long into the future. The flourishing Taliban safe havens across the border in the tribal areas coupled with the confirmed long-term American military presence are yet other factors that render almost impossible a near-term resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan.

It is slowly appearing that Afghanistan and the American policy-makers will have to brace themselves for a protracted insurgency that will last indefinitely into the future. On the issue of creating a favorable regional environment for the resolution of the conflict, unfortunately, only lip service has been paid to this cause by the stakeholders involved. Pakistani and Iranian animosities towards the U.S. have complicated the overall situation with these countries putting their own strategic interests before the resolution of a multi-decade old conflict in their neighborhood.

There can be no escaping the need to put up a brave resistance against the Taliban and the broader insurgency even if the necessary conditions for a final settlement of the conflict cannot be brought about in the short run as discussed.

Therefore, keeping in view the transition period in front of Afghanistan culminating in the 2014 withdrawal of most of the foreign troops, a new overall strategy in dealing with Taliban and the broader insurgency must be devised and set in place. It is clear that the military strategies alone cannot provide the long-sought panacea, hence civilian and developmental efforts must be reinvigorated and pursued with a renewed zeal. It is important to also defeat the Taliban morally - that is on the same turf that they claim their righteous insurgency comes from.

The current democratic political set-up in the country must be further strengthened with the effect that the government of Afghanistan can deliver on the welfare and developmental needs of the country and the nation. The government of Afghanistan must put its house in order by fighting corruption, dispersing justice, preserving the rule of law and bringing economic and political development.

It is only with the narrative of development and prosperity that we would be able to defeat the Taliban's narrative of war, destruction, violence and misery. In other words, building further on the gains made over the past ten years and making the current system a viable alternative to what Taliban have on offer is an imperative that Afghanistan and its foreign partners cannot afford to disregard.

It is perfectly possible that if Afghanistan can sustain and speed up its journey on the path to greater prosperity and development, incentives will reduce on the part of all the conflict's drivers to continue with the insurgency and violence. In other words, Afghanistan has an option of developing itself out of the current state of morass and stalemate, although it might prove to be messy and difficult. This, in turn, would require unwavering, long-term support of the international community to help Afghanistan gradually regain its vitality lost during decades of incessant conflict.

Challenges are many in the way to achieving such a vision of Afghanistan. The greatest is the continued disjuncture in Afghanistan's politics and the failure of the government to put up a satisfactory performance. The saga of the Parliamentary elections and the subsequent electoral crisis that is still far from over, placed on display the depth of the problems that Afghanistan continues to grapple with.

It is true that positive change and transformation takes place gradually and in bits; but Afghanistan's very slow move towards crafting a functioning state puts question marks over the ability and the willingness of the current government to guide the system towards greater maturity and consolidation. What is certain is that it is Afghangovernment's performance that will prove to be the most important arbiter of whether or not Afghanistan will achieve durable peace.

Mehdi Rezaie is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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