It’s been a year since the United States and its allies withdrew their combat troops from Afghanistan but the Afghans didn’t breathe a sigh of peace and relief even at the moment. The Taliban militia and their strife with those at the other end is one of the factors resulting in the instability and unrest in Afghanistan and the region.
To pull things back in order and for the peace to prevail the direct negotiations with the Taliban are inevitable. Realizing this Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States revived the Afghan peace process in Islamabad last week which had earlier been halted in July last year.
The Murree peace process had been stalled after just one meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government following the Afghan intelligence agency belatedly revealed the death of the Taliban leader Mullah Umer.
However, the revived dialogue process which aims to end the longstanding conflict and violence in Afghanistan is crucial as it has a four-fold mechanism in which all the four stakeholders have their significant roles to play and influences to use. The Murree peace process had China and the US to play the role of mere observers but the quadrilateral coordination mechanism aims to build direct contact between the Afghan government and the Taliban with the active and fruitful participation of China, Pakistan and the US.
“All the four countries have their own contacts (with the warring sides). The meeting will look at who has influence with whom and how the dialogue can be started and taken forward,” Foreign affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz said while highlighting the participation of all the four members.
Afghanistan also expects all the four countries to play their roles to end conflict and violence in the country. “The quarrel of these people [militants]is not with the government of Afghanistan or its people. We are fighting on behalf of all of you,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said referring to the multiple and various elements which are responsible for the growing instability and insurgency in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world and for that everyone has to work together to bring peace and stability for all.
The first quadrilateral interaction in Islamabad last Monday emphasized the immediate need for direct negotiations with Taliban however Afghanistan and Pakistan appeared divided over how to engage Taliban groups in the peace process. The first meeting was not attended by any of the Taliban representatives rather they desired for direct contact with the US and refused to talk with what they called the powerless Afghan government.
Afghanistan expects some sort of “action” whether coercive or non-coercive to be taken to bar the militants from carrying out their violent operations in the country particularly before their “spring offensive” – which they annually launch in late March or April. Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman to the Afghan Chief Executive, said “the irreconcilable elements would be targeted through joint counter-terrorism platforms.”
However, Pakistan does not favour the use of threat or the actual use of force as it can be counterproductive. Pakistan wants to carry forward the quadrilateral interaction by sequencing appropriate actions and measures to encourage Taliban to sit with the Afghan government on the negotiating table and reconcile. Sartaj Aziz cautioned the Afghan government that any threat of the use of force against irreconcilables can damage the peace process aimed at ending hostile activities by the Taliban.
Moreover it is still unclear which Taliban groups are ready to negotiate and which are not because of the infighting within Taliban groups over leadership dispute. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Khalil Hekmat Karzai said, at present there are three potential Taliban factions who could participate in the reconciliation process, one led by Mullah Mansoor, the breakaway faction led by Mullah Rasoul – which emerged last year following the revelation that Mullah Umer is dead and refused to accept the leadership of Mullah Mansoor, and the Haqqani network.
Nonetheless, Mr Aziz thinks the distinction between reconcilable and irreconcilables and how to deal with the irreconcilables can follow once the roadmap for bringing them to the table have been furnished.
Afghanistan has maintained high hopes that the revived peace process will minimize the sufferings of its civilians by bringing immediate and permanent peace in the country. Mr Karzai stressed the next two months should bring some change because the Afghan people and politicians do not have the patience they had last year.
And for that change to come, all the four stakeholders of the quadrilateral cooperation are scheduled to meet in Kabul where they will carry forward the discussion on what are the keys to unlock peace and stability in Afghanistan. Its also expected that the members of the Taliban’s political office based in the Qatari capital Doha will participate in a two-day series of talks organized by the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international group that works on conflict resolution.