US-Taliban huddle in Islamabad
US President Donald Trump scrapped the US-Taliban talks a few weeks ago which, according to both sides, were in the final phase of cinching a power-sharing deal. Now, after a couple of weeks, both sides are again in talks, and are meeting this time in Islamabad. The renewed drive to secure a political agreement to end the two-decade-old Afghan conflict is unlikely to reach any conclusion for multiple reasons, including the unpredictable nature of Taliban leadership and US President Trump. Their track record speaks volumes about both sides. While the talks were on Taliban refused to take the Kabul government as a legitimate partner and saw Washington as the only reliable party across the table. During the talks, they never agreed to a ceasefire and kept killing people on the streets. The other partner – Trump – is fond of first breaking deals and later striking new ones. Consider the case of Iran. On May 8, 2018, the president binned the deal, which had been earned in 2015 by the hard work of Iran and P5+1 (US, UK, Russia, France and China – plus Germany). Only months after withdrawing from the deal, the US president is inviting Iran for talks and to strike another deal.
Now, when Islamabad is the host, what are the prospects of the peace talks succeeding, especially when Afghanistan has successfully conducted the presidential poll?
Without much planning or announcement, a Taliban delegation, led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the chief of Taliban’s Doha-based political bureau, has landed in Islamabad after visiting Russia and Iran. Both countries did not comment on the purpose of the tour. But the flurry of activity on part of Taliban highlights the militant group’s newfound interest in interacting with the world. Before their arrival to Pakistan, coincidentally, a US delegation also landed in Islamabad. This shows both sides have been in touch through back channel diplomacy. The Foreign Office says it would provide an “opportunity to review the progress made under US-Taliban peace talks so far, and discuss the possibilities of resuming the paused political settlement process in Afghanistan”.
The resumption of talks at a time when Kabul is passing through a phase of transition after the presidential election is no doubt welcome. It will be better for all sides to consider inviting the Kabul government also. *