Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, July 19th, 2018

Will Peace Talks lead to Peace?

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Will Peace Talks lead to Peace?

Following the peace agreement with Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the escalated militancy and combatant and non-combatant casualties continued unabated despite the fact that Gulbuddin called upon warring factions to come to negotiating table. The Taliban’s newly appointed leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada staged heavy attacks against Afghan nation through Omari Operation, declared earlier by the Taliban’s slain leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Fighting has raged across the country during the summer months, with the insurgents attacking the northern city of Kunduz and threatening Helmand’s provincial capital Lashkar Gah. The Taliban gathered strength over the past two years, carrying out major attacks in Kabul and taking over swaths of territory for the first time since being ousted during the 2001 US-led military intervention.
Afghan government made great sacrifices within almost a decade to bring the Taliban to peace table. Besides the establishment of High Peace Council (HPC) in 2010, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), comprised of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, was constituted to hold talks with the Taliban but disintegrated as Mansour was killed in the US drone strike. Subsequently, the Afghan-Pak relations hit rock bottom and the blame game broke out with the Taliban’s unmitigated insurgency. Afghan officials have urged Pakistan to eliminate the Taliban’s hub from its soil and do not divide the militants into the bad and good. 
On the other hand, Pakistani authorities denied harboring the Taliban and persisted on resuming the “reconciliation process”. Moreover, the Pakistan army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif has lately offered Afghanistan stout support for combating the menace of terrorism, saying peace in the neighboring country is vital to regional stability. He added that the route to a peaceful and prosperous region ran through a stable Afghanistan, “which is achievable through a coordinated approach”.
Peace talks ebbed and flowed interminably and the Taliban elements played deceptive game despite Afghanistan’s bona fide intention for truce. The futility of peace and Taliban’s intensified attacks in Afghanistan did not only lead to the end of bonhomie between Kabul and Islamabad but also eroded the Afghan-Taliban’s trust. In addition, the US determined that Mullah Omar’s successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour was an obstacle before the talks and killed him in Pakistan’s soil in May. Subsequently, Afghanistan did not pursue the talks as seriously as before, however, left the door open for warring parties in case of holding talks – only HIA made a peace agreement.
Of late, reports say that the Taliban and the Afghan government resumed secret negotiation in September and have held two rounds of discussions in Qatar, where the Taliban has a diplomatic office, Guardian Newspaper cited anonymous sources. The newspaper said the talks were attended also by Mullah Abdul Manan, the brother of Afghan Taliban founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who died in 2013.
Meanwhile, it is reported that the Taliban’s splinter group, under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Rasool, declared that they will hold talks if the withdrawal of US forces from the country is guaranteed. The group is ready to hold an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned talk, the splinter’s group Mullah Manan Niazi is cited as saying. The group’s readiness for talks was announced earlier by HIA’s leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Perhaps the HIA’s peace agreement with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has desensitized the Taliban’s attitude towards the government and molded them into peace negotiator. Although the HIA and Taliban did not enjoy a good relation, but both pursued radical ideology and involved in insurgency in the country. If HIA’s peace agreement has brought changes to the Taliban’s mindsets and decision and got them resume peace process, it was a fruitful outcome for Kabul. But the question is that has it really changed their view positively?
If reports about Afghan-Taliban peace talks in Qatar come true, there seems no fruition in their discussion up to now since the insurgency continues unabated in Afghanistan. I still doubt the Taliban’s sincerity. It is believed that any warring parties which give Afghanistan the green light will have to cease the war or at least alleviate their insurgency. Moreover, it is likely that Mullah Manan either does not represent Haibatullah – who cherishes a highly parochial worldview – in Qatar negotiation or seeks to play the game with new trick. On the other hand, the negotiators, if there are any (it is still veiled in mystery), might not represent Afghanistan’s government and the alleged talks will be informal. In case of any talks, the Taliban’s foul game should be an eye-opener for the government and the process should not be repeated as before without a tangible result.
In terms of the splinter group under Mullah Rasool, it is believed that this is doomed to disintegration within the serious battles and has been undermined in recent months. Furthermore, the Taliban fighters under Haibatullah also pose threat to Rasool’s party. Seemingly, Rasool seeks an urgent panacea for the challenges of his own party rather than having mercy to Afghan nation.
There are no reasons for expressing optimism about a fruitful negotiation, especially when the endless talks were proved abortive repeatedly. To hold sincere talks, the Taliban will have to stop violence and bloodshed. Moreover, it was proved that the withdrawal of US forces led to worsening situation and the Taliban did not review their fighting strategy.

Hujjattullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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