Are hopes for reconciliation alive as Taliban reach out to regional countries?
In the growing pessimism for any political breakthrough in war-torn Afghanistan, there is some good news. Taliban delegations have visited Tehran and Moscow for seeking some common ground in a bid to find a workable formula for ending the long conflict.
In Tehran the Taliban delegation held talks with Afghan government representatives that included former vice President and a distinguished politician Yunus Qanuni . The Iranian Foreign Minister chaired the meetings between Taliban and their Afghan government rivals. The consensus emerging out of these parleys was that efforts must continue to find a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict. The statement was a manifestation of the belief that doors to a settlement are not closed, as many would expect considering an escalation in fighting.
In Moscow, the Taliban after meeting with Russian officials declared that the group would not attack provincial capitals to prevent large-scale fatalities. This should come as a big relief for citizens of some cities that were being threatened in relentless Taliban attacks. Whether the group will really avoid a head on confrontation with the Afghan national army in capturing provincial capitals remains to be seen because in a continuing confrontation it becomes difficult to draw the lines.
Both these initiatives come as fighting rages across the country. Escalating Taliban attacks have unnerved authorities in Kabul. US withdrawal is 90 percent complete and the remaining few hundred soldiers will have departed by Aug 31. Significantly, most of the districts so far have fallen to the Taliban without any fighting. The garrisons surrendered along with their arsenals of weapons and military vehicles including tanks. Most of the districts in Qundus, Badakhshan, Balkh are now under Taliban control including the important border crossing of Sher Khan Bandar. Central Afghanistan is no better as far as the heightened intensity of attacks is concerned. Many districts in Ghazni have surrendered. In Eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban are moving ahead cautiously, perhaps realizing that these areas will be easy to capture. In the northwest parts of the country, Taliban gains continue at an astounding pace. Border crossings between Afghanistan and Iran as well as Turkmenistan are under Taliban control—a big setback for the government in Kabul.
A fallout of the rapidly worsening security environment is the displacement of people. Families fleeing the outbreak of hostilities have nowhere to go. Their plight becomes more ominous as international charity organizations reduce their involvement in the country. The pandemic has made the situation even worse.
The willingness of Taliban, even at this stage of the war when they are gaining more territory every passing day, is a significant development that has not been noticed during the havoc of fighting.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
The most worrying development is the emergence of ethnic militias. To induct private militias into a country that is on edge, is an action by a government bent on creating destabilization before it bows out. That is a desperate move to stop the string of victories of the Taliban. The idea behind the emergence of private militias is to engage the Taliban locally in order to prevent an assault on Kabul. The other goal that is sought to be achieved is for the old warlords to become strong enough not only to weaken the Taliban but also to remain relevant – in case of a political settlement.
The willingness of Taliban, even at this stage of the war when they are gaining more territory every passing day, is a significant development that has not been noticed during the havoc of fighting. In plain words there is still hope for a breakthrough. But that will require some bold moves which could break the logjam.
Obviously, the biggest impediment to peace is the reluctance of the Ghani government to step aside. Unless this hurdle is removed, the prospects for ending the conflict will not improve. The key lies with the US government because the regime is sustained by the continuing inflow of funding to keep the administration moving. Power sharing will not work between the Taliban and the current government because the former has waged a long and bloody struggle against the current dispensation. How can there be a coalition government when the two entities are poles apart? And how can the Taliban explain such a u-turn to their cadres and supporters?
There is no alternative other than calling a ‘Grand Assembly’ or ‘Loya Jirga’ to finalize the mechanisms for installing a multi-ethnic transitional government led by the Taliban for two to three years. Only such a government will have the support of the masses and could destroy brutal outfits like Daesh while restoring peace and harmony.
The other alternative is a continuing battle that will see more civilian casualties and misery. The situation is dismal, and so only decisions based on the recognition of ground realities offer a pragmatic solution.
– Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.