Daily Times Editorial 4 October 2019

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. *


Reluctant marchers and JUI-F

Opposition parties in Pakistan often hold meetings to unite and launch a joint movement against the government of the time. In the present day, some main opposition parties are meeting only to foil or delay the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) led dharna plan, and they are doing so for all the right reasons. JUI-F was mostly banking on the support of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) which two weeks ago announced full participation. The Pakistan People’s Party, however, showed no eagerness at any point to take part in dharna politics, citing the lessons learnt from a similar siege of Islamabad by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in 2014, which ended in smoke despite the occupation of the Constitution Avenue for months. Three days ago, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari met PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif. The ensuing development happened in the shape of a meeting between JUI-F and PML-N leadership where both parties agreed to defer the protest plan for now. The JUI-F head said their central executive committee will take up PML-N’s proposal to defer until November. PML-N seeks more time to reach out to its rank and file and other opposition parties so that the march on Islamabad shows its full force. The real reason behind PML-N’s reluctance is the lack of plan-B. The architect of the dharna – JUI-F – is unaware of the consequences of the failure or success of the dharna.
The interim period provides a time for reflection for both the opposition and the government. The opposition needs to consider what it can realistically achieve. If it seeks to topple the PTI government, it should hardly find any buyers in pro-democracy corridors. If it wants to pressure the government to announce relief for the inflation-stricken public, the opposition has every right to mount pressure on the government, both inside and outside parliament. As for the government, it needs to turn its attention to record high tax and interest rates, depreciating currency and external and internal deficits. The moment of hike in growth and job opportunities has yet to hit the market. Already, one year down the road, the government refuses to shed its container-style politics. This denial may not serve it well for too lon

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