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Stalemate between Taliban and USA broken

28 January, 2019

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Stalemate between the Taliban and the United States has broken. During the past six days of marathon talks the two sides have made progress and, according to the media reports, Taliban and Americans have reached an understanding whereby the US has agreed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in return for the Taliban assurances that they will not allow Al-Qaeda and/or Daesh/ISIS taking shelter in Afghanistan. However, there are three major pending issues to be sorted out i-e; a ceasefire between the parties, a dialogue between the Taliban and the National Unity Government (NUG), and removal of Taliban from the UN sanctions list. It is also not clear whether any progress has been made for the establishment of an interim setup after the withdrawal of the American/NATO troops.

Reactions to the Taliban-ZK talks have been on the known lines. President Ashraf Ghani expressed his grouse at the Davos World Economic Forum when he curtly remarked to a question “there’s discussion, but this discussion needs to be shared back. A discussion that does not involve the region we will not trust…. If we don’t get all the pieces right, one piece alone doesn’t suffice. “President Ghani particularly mentioned Russian and Indian concerns in this regard.

Indian analysts described Taliban-ZK understanding as capitulation of the Americans to the Taliban. Some pro-Indian American analysts were more Catholic than the Pope in criticizing the understanding and found the opportunity to malign Pakistan as if Pakistan had been dictating the whole dialogue process. Therefore, it is obvious that in the coming days some countries, especially India, may play spoilers’ role which does not augur well for peace and stability in the war-ravaged country.

In order to assuage President Ghani’s hurt feelings Mr. Khalilzad has travelled back to Kabul from Doha to apprise him about the progress in talks and take him into confidence. It is also noteworthy that before departure from Doha Mr. Khalilzad in a twitter message remarked: “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, which was a common diplomatic term to inform the world that while progress has been made, there are still issues to be sorted out. It was also meant to comfort the NUG in Kabul.

However, the bigger picture is about a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. A reality check would be needed to come to an amicable solution; to facilitate an orderly US troops’ withdrawal; an agreement between the Taliban and NUG for the establishment of an interim setup to chalk out a future map of the country which may satisfy various ethnic and religious groups. The last issue, concerning future map of the country, seems a tall order.

Here lies the test of leadership for all stakeholders, especially the Taliban; whether they want to keep the country united or plunge it in chaos of the nineties or resort to brutal practices of the past which although brought peace to the region under their control made the country a zombie’s jungle.

Being the most powerful group, Taliban will have to display magnanimity and understanding towards various ethnic groups and religious minorities; they will have to eschew from imposing their brand of Islam or present archaic tribal practices as Islamic gospels. More importantly, while respecting tribal traditions they will have to keep pace with the modern world and take the society forward.

Taliban or future dispensation in Afghanistan will have to respect international sensibilities, especially international covenants dealing with human rights. In this regard, it was encouraging to note that Abbas Stanakzai, Taliban leader at the Moscow conference tried to dispel the impression about the Taliban movement as a non-compromising and archaic group of ruthless savages. His advocacy for women rights, including inter alia their right to business and ownership, inheritance, education, work, choosing one’s husband, security, health, and right to good life within the confines of Islam was breath of fresh air if compared to their earlier practices and keeping in view the conservative nature of the Afghan tribal society. Similarly, their support for polio vaccination to the children belied earlier reports that they considered it as “un-Islamic”. He also touched upon the issues of narcotics and reconstruction of Afghanistan and the need for international community’s assistance in this regard.

More importantly, the Taliban leader made it clear that the Taliban did not hold an “agenda of destructive actions in other countries”. He further clarified that “in the past 17 years we have practically proved that we have not interfered in any way in other countries. Similarly, we do not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against other countries including neighbouring countries”. The proposed understanding in Doha is reflective of Taliban’s seriousness in assuring the world that they would not allow Afghanistan becoming a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda or ISIS.

Doha dialogue has been a pointer to a change in the American policy towards the Taliban. First, the US recognized the Taliban as s legitimate interlocutor which proved their resilience against all odds. It was also an acknowledgement of the fact that despite display of phenomenal might the US-led coalition could not bring about the desired results either militarily or on the political front despite para-trooping their Afghan favourites. Second, Taliban’s assurance of not allowing Al-Qaeda or ISIS should be enough to address the American concerns. Americans may have realised that nation building has not been their forte, at least, not in a tribal society of Afghanistan. Third, American presence in Afghanistan only worsened the situation in the country which became number one in poppy production while incompetent leadership became a tool to promote corruption and nepotism. Afghan leaders hardly had anything to inculcate confidence amongst the people or offer a secure future for their children. In such a depressing scenario Taliban’s perseverance qualified them as an alternate to end chaos and uncertainty in the country.

Coming days and weeks would be crucial for the talks between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad. There are still crucial issues to be sorted out and agreed upon by both sides, in particular the issues of ceasefire, interim setup in the country in post-withdrawal period and, removal of Taliban from the UN sanctions list. These talks are equally crucial for the entire region as restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan would augur well not only for the valiant people of Afghanistan but the entire region, especially Pakistan which has suffered the most during the past four decades.

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