Historic Negotiations with the TalibanJuly 9, 2015 in Afghanistan
A delegation from the High Peace Council of Afghanistan has travelled to Pakistan to take part in historic negotiations with the Taliban, raising hopes of a breakthrough between the two groups even as the spring/summer fighting season gathers momentum and insurgent violence escalates.
Following a series of informal talks held by the two sides in various countries, the Afghan delegation met with with their Taliban counterparts on 8 July in Muree, a resort near the Pakistani capital Islamabad. Afghanistan and the United States have previously urged Pakistan to host trilateral talks with the Taliban, as they believe that Islamabad’s influence over the militant group might prove useful in expediting the peace process. It is with this in mind that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has sought out ways of improving diplomatic relations with Pakistan, particularly in regards to increased security and intelligence cooperation. While these efforts have been widely criticised in Afghanistan, Islamabad has – by agreeing to host the talks – shown itself to be 1) susceptible to Ghani’s overtures and 2) committed to the restoration of regional stability.
So far, very little information has been revealed about the nature of the talks or the identities of the participants. On the Afghan side, the four-man team is said to include deputy foreign minister Hekmat Karzai, the nephew of former president Hamid Karzai. As the High Peace Council is supposed to operate independently from the government, Karzai’s inclusion in the negotiating team may been seen as an attempt by Ashraf Ghani to placate the former president, who has fiercely criticised Ghani’s attempts to normalise relations with Pakistan. On the Taliban side, Pakistani intelligence officials have confirmed that the negotiating team is made up of three men, whose identities have yet to be disclosed. Finally, acting as observers, are representatives of the Chinese and American governments.
While the talks have been greeted with expressions of cautious optimism, the road ahead lies strewn with obstacles, chief amongst which is the Taliban itself. Riven by disunity and unwilling to take orders from a leadership in exile, the Taliban is no longer a coherent insurgent group. A Taliban spokesperson has recently come forward saying that the individuals contracting the negotiations in Pakistan have not been authorised to do so, as the office in Qatar is the only channel through which such discussions can be held. Evidently, there is an ongoing rivalry between those members of the Taliban who want to fight and those who want to talk.
A further complication, and one which will certainly occupy the minds of those present in Islamabad, is the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) as a rival insurgent group in Afghanistan. Over the past month, IS militants are believed to have seized territory from the Taliban in six of the twenty one Nangarhar districts. Moreover, witnesses claim that many of the IS fighters are former Taliban militants who have become disillusioned with the group’s failure to reestablish its authority in Kabul. Should this state of affairs be allowed to continue indefinitely, the Taliban runs the risk of complete disintegration. While it is impossible to say at this stage what the outcome of of the talks will be, there is no doubt that the prospect of becoming a spent force will be an important – if not deciding – factor in the militants’ decision making process.