Salman Rafi Sheikh, March 17, 2019
Despite Kabul’s publicly made allegations on the US about ‘selling Afghanistan to the Taliban’ in the peace talks, there is little gainsaying that the Afghan-US war has never been so close to ending through settlement than it is now. While Kabul continues to express its anger over being excluded, there is little, given the legitimacy crisis Kabul is itself facing, that even the principal Afghan actors can do to secure Kabul’s presence on the negotiations table.
On the other hand, the fact that Kabul is seen falling apart with the US just when the US and the Taliban had announced to have made progress on negotiations points to how the incumbent Afghan political elite sees the prospective deal as having little to nothing for them.
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The Taliban have little patience for Kabul, and given the progress being made on talks, the US and other powers involved in the process wouldn’t want talks to hit a stumbling block and thus force the Taliban to return to the battle field and thus damage the current momentum.
This momentum reflected strongly in the statements issued by the Taliban after 16-day marathon talks in Qatar. The Taliban re-affirmed that “this round of talks (in Doha) saw extensive and detailed discussions taking place regarding two issues that were agreed upon during January talks. Those two issues were the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and preventing anyone from harming others from Afghan soil; how and when will all foreign forces exit Afghanistan and through what method? Similarly, how will the United States and her allies be given assurances about future Afghanistan?”
The statement added further that “progress was achieved regarding both these issues. For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships and prepare for the upcoming meeting, the date of which shall be set by both negotiation teams.”
This momentum adds smoothly to the US imperative of an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is probably not possible unless they reach a deal with the Taliban. And, while the Taliban have outrightly refused to engage with Kabul, even Kabul’s own demand to do a ‘Kabul led and Kabul controlled’ peace process is unacceptable to the US, and would obviously be potentially disastrous.
Another important reason for Kabul’s outburst, which has India’s backing, is the way Pakistan has become the single most important external actor in facilitating the talks and helping the Taliban become mainstream.
This has gained recognition at the international level at a time when Pakistan’s eastern neighbour has avowed to ‘isolate’ Pakistan at regional and international levels. The recognition, on the contrary, Pakistan is gaining defeats the isolationist agenda of India, and instead is mainstreaming Pakistan in a major way. This became pretty evident when German foreign minister and British defence secretary visited on two consecutive days Pakistan and re-affirmed Pakistan’s commitment to peace in the region i.e., on its eastern (Indian) and western (Afghanistan) borders.
The Ghani administration understands that the US-Taliban talks would not have become possible or progress as smoothly as they’re doing now without Pakistan’s deep involvement, and that Pakistan’s deep involvement means a political settlement between the US and the Taliban that would elevate the Taliban to the highest echelons of political power, rendering both the incumbent elite and India, the two main actors which oppose talks, out of the game; hence, the controversy that started when Ashraf Ghani’s national security advisor, Hamdullah Mohib, launched a series of verbal attacks on the US, saying that “We don’t know what’s going on. We don’t have the kind of transparency that we should have.”
He added further that the way Kabul was being left out and keeping deliberately in the dark about Afghanistan’s future was akin to “a humiliation for the Afghan government.”
But Ghani administration continues to undermine the fact that more than anything else, it is the Taliban who continue to oppose Kabul’s presence on the table. A recent Taliban statement made a sharp attack on the president saying that “even though Ashraf Ghani is an Afghan national, he can distinctly be considered an American due to his character, ideology, loyalty, working past and political commitments especially in these times as the special forces (butchers) under his leadership continue to ruthlessly murder Afghans in night raids, raze their homes, loot their valuables, desecrate their sacrosanct and as civilian tragedies keep piling up… It seems that this individual has no roots and ties with the Afghan nation… Afghan nation demands that Ashraf Ghani disclose his past and current ties with America.”
There is thus very little that Kabul can do to potentially sabotage the talks and force its way in. Therefore, despite the controversy, the talks are going to continue, and as the talks would progress so would intensify the geo-politically contentious issues surrounding it i.e., Russia and China’s influence in future Afghanistan and the US’ concerns about it. For now, however, the ‘great game’ issue remains buried. print