Why US is in a better position to negotiate with Taliban? | Azhar Azam
Once an old Afghan described the mythical creation of Afghanistan “When Allah had made the rest of the world, He saw that there was a lot of rubbish left over, bits and pieces and things that did not fit anywhere else. He collected them all together and threw them down on to the earth. That was Afghanistan”.
Due to concerted tribal disputes, internal instability, and ethnic divisions, Afghanistan has perpetually been prone to international aggressions that tracked it as a “gold mine” for seeking a greater influence in region to oversee access to the most populated and the biggest market in the its surroundings.
But any military effort to dominate Afghan land has time and again coined more complex war hotspots in the Islamic Republic. Additionally, it has never been the desire of any of the interlopers to resolve differences amongst the various Afghan armed factions, particularly with the Afghan Taliban.
For the first time in the endless devastated Afghan history, the United States is making some serious and sincere efforts for prevalence of peace and to settle the rows between Kabul administration and Taliban, in place of dogging a plan to embed a puppet regime in Kabul.
It is also for the first time that instead of arraigning Pakistan for the blazing situation in Afghanistan, Washington is seeking its cooperation for a sustainable peace in the battle-ravaged country.
Likeably, Islamabad has responded profusely to the United States’ Afghanistan peace plan and has helped to bring Taliban on the negotiation table. Through influential political and religious figures, Pakistan has exerted pressure on Taliban to engage in constructive negotiations with the United States.
As a result, the US-initiated and Pakistan-facilitated peace dialogue – that secretly started last July in Doha with the groundbreaking talks with Taliban – is stepping up, albeit frivolous disruptions. In addition, the willingness of the Taliban to participate in the dialogue is giving peace a bright chance to linger in Afghanistan.
The 10-month peace dialogue is already tracing some indications of success as in the first quarter of 2019; the civilian casualties in Afghanistan fell lowest in six years. Although UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted that the harsh winter conditions during the first three months of the year may have contributed to the reduction in civilian casualties but it overlooked the fact that such conditions were prevailing in the prior years too.
Until now, Taliban are demanding the timeframe of foreign troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, while the United States is seeking Taliban’s commitment that Afghan soil will not be used to harm other countries as well as announcement of nationwide ceasefire by them.
Although the peace dialogue is outwardly wedged into ‘tit for tat’ demands but Washington is relatively in a good position as compared to Taliban. This is because in case of any potential peace agreement between the two sides, Taliban will not only accept U.S. presence in Afghanistan for at least another 12 to 18 months but they will also announce a truce.
Taliban are very much aware that they will be at disadvantage once the peace agreement is signed as their armed resistance would virtually be frozen so they are trying to bargain as much as possible before they would become part of any political settlement in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Kabul administration seems to be quite concerned about their possible exclusion from the peace talks with Taliban by the United States and other regional and international players. Nevertheless, the United States understands that any peace solution without the inclusion of all Afghan groups will be detrimental for the country; therefore it is not stopping to push for an intra-Afghan dialogue.
But U.S. initiative of intra-Afghan dialogue is facing a grave challenge in the form of Taliban’s consistent denial to talk with the Kabul administration, accusing it to be the “puppet” of the United States.
According to Taliban, Afghan government is responsible for a making a “security agreement from the outset to prolong foreign occupation” and permitting the “occupying enemy (American army) to carry out various kinds of criminal acts in our country (Afghanistan)”.
Taliban say should the Kabul administration desire to talk with them then it has to first abolish the security agreement. Afghan national unity government is highly unlikely to accept this demand as it would not only further weaken its declining control on the country but also would expose it to intimidating Taliban forces.
It is owing to this compelling Kabul administration’s limitation that Taliban are reluctant to mull over its role in peace process and prefer to talk directly with the U.S. that will eventually decide over the future of security agreement and withdrawal of troops.
Diplomatically, the United States can gain a lot by calling off the pact. Once the treaty with Kabul administration is annulled, Taliban will be under increased international pressure to hold ceasefire and quickly move towards political settlement in Afghanistan.
In addition, there is a growing sense in Taliban as well that it is just about the right time to end the mayhem in Afghanistan. They also discern if they miss an opportunity now, they will not only elude the hopes of many Afghans but also the support of their sympathizers such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE.
By any means, it is not just the United States that is under pressure to resolve the complex Afghanistan puzzle – in fact by showing a little resilience, it can shift all the diplomatic burdens on Taliban.