The very idea of talks and negotiations with the Taliban and Haqqani group lies dead in tracks at least for now. After the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, th ex-president and the head of the peace council, there has been a marked attempt on the part of the government and the president to play down the issue of talks even if only temporarily for the wounded psyche of the public to soothe in the process.
In his speech to the Loya Jirga in Kabul, President Karzai had an implicit acknowledgment of how the people at large loathed his calling the Taliban "disgruntled brothers". But the so-called peace process and attempts on the part of the government cannot remain so dormant indefinitely.
After the second Bonn Conference on Afghanistan scheduled to take place early next month in Germany, in any likelihood, we are going to see the government of Afghanistan on the offensive once again pushing for opening paths of talks with the Taliban.
The traditional Loya Jirga held in Kabul overwhelmingly supported the idea of renewing efforts aimed at reaching out to the Taliban leadership. It called for a new mechanism to be set in place by the government of Afghanistan through which the derailed peace process can be pursued with renewed vigor.
There is no change visible in the Taliban leadership's attitude towards the overtures made by the government of Afghanistan and the U.S. negotiation teams which have so far engaged some high-ranking Taliban members a number of times.
While many peripheral leaders and commanders within the Taliban hierarchy are susceptible to being manipulated by the government and Americans, the core of its leadership would remain defiant and serious about pressing ahead with the insurgency. However, it is quite probable that many of the lower level leaders can be wooed away from the larger hierarchy of the Taliban as a result of which the momentum of the movement can be further arrested.
History of other militant insurgencies in other countries has repeatedly shown that insurgent groups such as the Taliban can be weakened through manipulating their leaders and creating divisions among their ranks. There were signs of this last year when it became apparent that the leadership of the Taliban including Mullah Omar have some disagreements with each other as to how to respond to the government's peace gestures. Mullah Baradar, who was found to be sympathetic to the government offers, was subsequently arrested and reprimanded by the security agencies of our neighbor country.
The feared Haqqani network, operating out of North Waziristan and having many eastern provinces of Afghanistan under its influence, is an important arm of the Taliban as far as the war in the east is concerned.
Americans have for a while been concentrating on this network. Interestingly enough and as widely reported, so far, they have had Pakistani security agencies' cooperation in arresting some of its man commanders and reaching out to its leadership.
For now, there are extensive back-channel negotiations being carried out by the U.S. with the leadership of the Haqqani group. It is very likely that we would witness significantly less activity by the Haqqani group in Kabul and some eastern provinces as a result of some give and take that seems to be underway involving the Haqqanis and the Americans. While the Taliban's leadership remains defiant and rigid in their outlook and attitude, the Haqqanis have shown that they are more flexible and can be accommodated to some extent.
Need for a multi-pronged strategy
The problem of ongoing conflict and civil strife in Afghanistan has no over-night solution. The reality of the complicated insurgency in Afghanistan, itself comprised of the Taliban, the Haqqanis, Hizb-e Islami, and other smaller groups, and each having its own unique set of motives and objectives, is that neither talks and negotiations can provide a comprehensive solution alone nor sole persistence on the military track.
A combination of strategies that involves both exerting military pressure and coercion while leaving the door open for those who genuinely wish to return to the civilian fold seems to be the only workable way towards resolution of the crisis over the long-term.
However, for now, there seems to be a strong bias within the government of Afghanistan towards the idea of talks and pursuing the peace process. The reality, however, is that even talks and negotiations would provide only limited results at best at a time when the government and the perception of it are mired in a crisis of credibility, governance and corruption. If not more important than talks and attempts to negotiate, there should be increasing military pressure kept on the militant groups including the Taliban.
A third aspect of the anti-militancy drive by the government of Afghanistan should be strong demonstration by the government of Afghanistan in both word and action underlining the notion that it is still committed to the goal of extricating itself from the cesspool of corruption, mismanagement, incompetence, misgovernance and bad governance as opposed to "good governance".
As long as the government of Afghanistan, including its leadership, remains married to these chronic failures and as long as the above qualities remain the hallmark of government in Afghanistan, one can be sure that anti-government militant groups such as the Taliban would only grow in strength and following.
It is high time that the government puts its actions together, take credible steps towards cleaning up the system and begin to put its house in order. The first step would be on the part of the president and the government to normalize relations with the country's parliament and respect and observe a minimum of statutory and Constitutional obligations that it has towards other branches of the state.
Tangible and overall improvement in governance, justice delivery, making real and meaningful positive impacts on the lives of common people in provinces and districts should all go hand in hand with the ongoing $100-billion-dollar-a-year military drive as well as the efforts around the idea of the peace process.
It is important to keep in mind that without lasting and visible improvements in the governance system in the country and as long as this full-blown governance crisis is not adequately addressed, the current military efforts as well as the peace talks would provide only temporary and very limited results at best.
It goes without saying that achieving all these would require close cooperation among Afghanistan government and its international partners. The upcoming second Bonn Conference is the right opportunity that should not be missed. Before all this can materialize, however, the government of Afghanistan under President Karzai should break away from past failures and genuinely work towards improving the desperate situation.