Afghanistan’s unending endgame
Good of the prime minister’s special assistant for information to finally clear the air, so to speak, about rumours that Imran Khan met the visiting Taliban delegation just the other day. Truth be told, with everybody meeting everybody – Taliban and the Pakistanis, Zalmay and the Pakistanis, Taliban and Zalmay – it wasn’t too hard to believe that the Taliban might have sat down with Imran Khan as well. But Imran did say, in America, that he’d only meet the Taliban once their deal with the Americans was signed. And since President Trump had just dumped any prospects of that happening anytime soon, PM Imran was understandably “very sad.”
However, it is very important to remember that back then Imran thought his idea was the smartest one, that once the Taliban and Washington shook hands, he [Imran] would help convince the insurgents to talk to the official government in Kabul. But since he had earlier also suggested dissolving the Kabul administration in favour of an interim setup, which would include the Taliban, it’s little surprise that few people, including the Taliban, bought into it. So even though a lot of important meetings have taken place all over again were are still, more or less, not very far from where we started more than a year ago; when President Trump first green-lighted the peace talks. Perhaps that’s because nobody has paid any attention to the number one problem.
For all the progress, the Taliban never recognised the official Afghan government, nor allowed it any part in the peace talks. And all the while Washington played along, completely ignoring Kabul. Of course that rubbed President Ghani the wrong way. He just could not fathom the logic of deciding Afghanistan’s future, with a militia that refuses to so much as recognise the constitution, and with zero participation of the legal Afghan government; one which the US itself poured billions upon billions into propping up. And if Islamabad was suggesting doing something about it after the Taliban and the Americans struck a deal, Kabul was just not interested. Hence the stalemate. If this particular feature has not been addressed in this rushed, hush-hush round of renewed talks, then all everybody’s achieved is going round in circles one more time.
And so the Afghan war’s endgame goes on and on. Lately Russia, China and apparently even Iran have joined others in hitting the proverbial brick wall. The solution, which everybody should start thinking about, is getting the two principle Afghan parties to the conflict to talk to each other. And that should be done before anybody decides anything with the Americans. That will remain a problem, though, because Taliban militias keep grabbing more ground, and headlines, putting everybody else on the back foot, including Imran Khan. For the endgame to finally end, then, someone will have to blink first. *