The Afghan peace process

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The Afghan peace process By The tragic incident in Kabul on April 19, in which 64 persons lost their lives and 347 were wounded, not only derailed the process of reconciliation that the Quadrilateral Contact Group (QCG) had initiated with optimism but also put an end to Pakistan’s peace efforts after President Ashraf Ghani blamed Pakistan for not doing much to battle terrorism. Kabul, he said, would not ask Islamabad for help to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table but will expect it to fulfil its obligations, as given in writing at the meetings of the QCG. He also demanded that Islamabad should take action against those who are not willing to negotiate, meaning the Haqqani Network, which has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack. Pakistan, for its part, observed caution by not reacting in the manner it used to do in the past – sharply. This has been considered a positive development as it keeps the door open for future negotiations. Meanwhile, other positive signals for peace started coming from Afghanistan, where the government of Ashraf Ghani is believed to have started efforts to broker a deal with Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, a renowned mujahideen commander and chief of the Hizb-e-Islami. His party had also conducted talks earlier when Hamid Karzai was in power, but no deal could be struck. Although some members of his party have joined the government in their personal capacities, Hikmatyar himself joining hands with Ashraf Ghani would be a big step. It would convey to others that making a deal with the government is not as horrendous as is being projected. Although an alliance with him will be helpful, it is still important for the government to provide an honourable way for others if they want to follow suit. It is generally believed that some of the Taliban who want to reconcile are only hesitating because of this factor. Some understanding seems to have been reached between Hikmatyar and President Ashraf Ghani for a possible patch up and 12 out of 15 points have already been agreed upon. The remaining three are to be ironed out in a meeting between the two, expected to take place soon. Of utmost importance will be the decisions on what method will be followed and what kind of face-saving is provided. That will determine the course of the future dialogue process with others. One should mention that there is considerable unease in Abdullah Abdullah’s camp in the unity government because of the efforts to woo Hikmatyar, who as an ally would strengthen Ghani’s position because of his influence in the north of the country. In this context, it is pertinent to recall that after being defeated in the presidential elections, Abdullah Abdullah was made Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with the blessings of the US. This decision was to be authenticated by a Loya Jirga within two years, and after that his title was to be changed to prime minister. This somehow did not happen and the CEO started getting restive with each passing day. That is why US Secretary of State John Kerry secretly visited Kabul and, after realising that a deal to that effect was not possible, announced that the term of office of the CEO was five years instead of two, as announced earlier. Rather than strengthening his position, this move weakened it even more and further widened the trust deficit between Abdullah and President Ghani. Under these circumstances, if Hikmatyar makes a deal with the government, it will give more strength to the president than the CEO. And let us not forget that the CEO was a spokesperson of the late Ahmad Shah Masood and had a long history of rivalry with Hikmatyar, whose joining of the government will thus cost him dearly. Keeping this relationship in mind, there is every indication that the CEO will silently oppose the deal. To see how successful President Ashraf Ghani will be in his efforts, we will have to wait for the days ahead. We must also see what is happening on the Taliban side. After the initial shock of disunity in their ranks, they seem to have somehow resolved their differences. The two most important persons, the son and brother of Mullah Omar, have accepted Mullah Akhtar Mansour as the leader of the Taliban movement. Mullah Rasool, who had refused to accept the leading role of Mullah Mansour and fought a pitched battle with him, has disappeared from the scene. Nobody knows whether he has gone underground, been killed or is in safe custody somewhere. But he is certainly no longer a threat to Mullah Mansour. How independent Mullah Mansoour is in taking decisions or moving around freely is a source of serious concern to many. Tayab Agha, who had refused to accept him as Amir, suddenly agreed to not only accept him as leader but also to visit Pakistan for that purpose – on the condition that the meeting with him be arranged openly. This had raised many eyebrows about the well-being of the leader of the Taliban. Whatever the case, the fact remains that there is no big challenge to the Taliban movement for the time being. They are now under one umbrella and for that the credit goes to Siraj Haqqani, the most effective leader and second in command. As for the reconciliation process, the Taliban are in no mood for a dialogue with the unity government; they are confident of gaining further space in the days ahead. However, the possibility cannot be ruled out altogether once they are in a position of strength. And even if they do not they will keep mounting pressure on the government in an attempt to carve out a better place than what Gulbaddin Hikmatyar will have achieved by then.

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