Peace talks: Looking back and into the future
As the Afghan year comes to a close (1396 on the Afghan calendar) there is talk of both peace and war.
James Mattis, US secretary of defence, announced the Taliban were interested in dialogue shortly after he entered the US airbase in Bagram. He claimed the US has received signals from the Taliban after 16 years of conflict.
He claimed it was the result of political reconciliation between the Afghan government and Taliban as well as power of the Afghan army to ensure security for the country.
In his opinion Afghanistan was no longer a safe haven for individuals or groups seeking to carry out attacks on foreign targets like the al Qaeda did on September 11, 2001.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who met Mattis was all praise for the new US strategy which has delivered the results Afghan people have been waiting for 40 years.
Ghani who spoke more clearly than ever before at the Kabul Process Summit said the government was prepared for unconditional talks. However, the Taliban's immediate response was negative, and neither did Islamabad take a decisive step.
Naweed Elham, an analyst, is echoing President Ghani, saying, "We are looking for peace but war is a reality in Afghanistan, and the war will continue trashing (our peace) efforts."
Violence shows no signs of declining. The attack by Taliban on Farah province which led to heavy losses among Afghan special forces cast a shadow on the last days of the year. There was also serious criticism in Parliament.
Uzbekistan plans to host a major conference on peace and security. Among the invitees are the UN chief, the special envoy of European Union in international affairs and security policy, the foreign ministers of China, Russia, US, Britain, Germany, Iran, Italy, France, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates (UAE) – all of whom can be a key to the peace lock.
The Afghan government claims both the national and international initiatives for peace as its biggest achievements in the year. The sidelining of Pakistan, and the US government's turning on the pressure are part of President Donald Trump's new Afghan strategy.
In October 2017, the sixth round of four nation- meetings involving the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China were restarted after a halt of five months in Muscat, the capital of Oman.
In another development, the foreign ministers of the European Union announced their new strategy regarding Afghanistan in Luxemburg on October 16. In supporting the bid to establish peace and security in Afghanistan, the Union has inserted five basic principles in a new strategy that are "peace – stability, regional security, democracy, law enforcement; human rights; immigration; economic development and women's empowerment.
The European Union had announced the five principles in the month of August before the finalising of Trump's new strategy for Afghanistan. The European Union members unlike the Shanghai Contact Group's four nation meetings are not in direct or near contact with Taliban (so it is not expected that they would have an impact on Taliban) but the support to the Afghan government in general is important. The Union's members have the ability to pressure Pakistan.
To counter international pressures specifically the threats of the US, Qamar Jawed Bajwa, chief of the Pakistan army, traveled on October 1 to Kabul and freed a Canadian family held hostage by the Taliban. Pakistan carried out this operation and others to show that it is serious about countering terrorism.
Old and new players
Though the government in Kabul as well as High Peace Council are optimistic, Mohammad Qasem Erfani, a lecturer in Gharjistan University believes, "Pakistan is trying to manage the situation through more tactical action and a general change is seen in its strategy regarding Afghanistan." Simultaneously Moscow has set up new challenges on the road to peace. When Russian suggestions regarding peace in Afghanistan were ignored by the US and Afghanistan, Islamabad showed its interest and partnered with Russia. China, which has been an economic partner, also raised its voice as partner of Pakistan. There is growing tension over peace.
The Russian initiative in partnering Pakistan regarding peace in Afghanistan has taken place in a situation where there are reports that show that Russia and its regional allies are helping the Taliban financially through the sale of oil. Erfani believes, "Though the Afghan government did not confirm the reports, fierce rivalry between Russia and the US suggests the cold war has returned and is being fought in Afghanistan."
Considering the reality that Shanghai is against the NATO and European Union economically and security so there is no reason that they would help Afghanistan. Though the Russians are concerned about the widening of terrorism in central Asia, negative reaction of Russia to the strategy of USA in Afghanistan proves that the success of USA is not acceptable for Russia.
Future of peace
Despite the initiatives for peace in Afghanistan, evidence shows that peace cannot be gotten so soon. Erfani believes, "Peace will come only after serious changes in the battlefield." New US troops have arrived in Afghanistan with more equipment and support for the Afghan National Army. Still, the Taliban have not suffered heavy losses or loss of territory in many of the provinces.
The US has given time to Pakistan.