Monday, August 10, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 11, 2015

Peace talks There is a noticeable spike in violence by the Afghan Taliban since the death of Mullah Omar was revealed. Thus, for example, a suicide attack on a check post at Kabul airport on August 10 killed five people. Another suicide attack in Khanabad district of the northern Kunduz province on a militias’ security meeting on August 9 killed 29 people, including 25 militiamen. The latter attack reflects the expansion of the Taliban’s activities from their traditional bases in the south and southeast of the country to its northern reaches for at least the last two years. A wave of attacks on the Afghan army, police and US special forces in Kabul has killed at least 50 people and wounded hundreds. On August 8 a truck bombing in a heavily populated district of the capital and an hours-long battle at the base used by the US special forces accounted for most of the toll. While the violence mounts, the peace talks are stalled after one round hosted by Pakistan in Murree because of the uncertainty surrounding the succession process after Mullah Omar was declared having passed away two years ago. But lest anyone be under the misconception that the current spike in violence is only due to the clouds lowering around the heads of the movement after their founder leader’s demise, it needs recalling that according to a UN report, 50,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in just the first half of 2015. This upsurge in violence dovetails neatly with the final departure of the US-led NATO forces at the end of 2014. If any optimist had any hopes that the Taliban would be weakened by an internal leadership struggle after the revelation that Mullah Omar was no more, those hopes have been dimmed by the increased level of attacks and their intensity. Amidst the echo of guns and suicide bombs, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the telephone to discuss, amongst other things, the security situation in Afghanistan in the light of these developments. It may be recalled that President Ashraf Ghani has made it a point since coming to office, unlike his predecessor former president Hamid Karzai, to reach out to Pakistan and China in the effort to find a peaceful solution to Afghanistan’s long running conflict. The first round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Murree hosted China and the US as participants/observers/facilitators. Pakistani National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz has expressed the hope that a resumption of the stalled talks would help lower the level of violence in evidence of late inside Afghanistan. However, although he was hopeful this would happen soon, he added the rider that resumption may only be possible after the Taliban leadership problem is resolved. Mullah Mansour, declared elected as Mullah Omar’s successor, and considered until now pro-talks, has under pressure of the challenges to his legitimacy and credibility as the new Taliban chief been persuaded to take a harder line and support fighting more than talking. Although Afghans are once again pointing accusatory fingers at Pakistan as being responsible for the recent surge in violence in their country, Sartaj Aziz denies this, arguing that there are all kinds of militant factions active in Afghanistan, making it difficult to determine who was behind these actions. He did, however, condemn the attacks, saying Pakistan is sincerely trying with Kabul’s cooperation to restrict cross-border movement of militants. He reiterated that Islamabad is saying to the Taliban that it is better to talk than to fight since fighting never leads to any solution. If that is the advice Sartaj Aziz has offered the Taliban, it appears they have not heeded it and are embarked on a fighting first and talking later (if at all) path. Clearly, the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death has befogged the whole horizon and made unclear just how the endgame in Afghanistan will now play out. Naturally, what happens in Afghanistan affects neighbouring Pakistan profoundly, therefore it is in Pakistan’s interests to persist with the role of peace broker, using its influence with the Taliban and its improved relations with Kabul to bring about a rapprochement between the old foes of a long divided Afghan society.

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