Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 6, 2015

Afghan talks While presiding over a Corps Commanders Conference, COAS General Raheel Sharif has reiterated that the talks between the Afghan government and Taliban are the only credible way to achieve peace. The conference expressed its satisfaction at the noticeable change in the overall security situation of Pakistan. The COAS underlined that the detractors and spoilers of the peace talks were against the settling down and prosperity of Afghanistan and the entire region. The last statement comes amidst considerable uncertainty regarding the Murree process that appears stalled for the moment after the postponement of the second round of talks. Adding to the uncertainty is the news that Tayyab Agha, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar, has resigned. He has issued a statement to the effect that he is not taking sides in the internal rifts that have surfaced within the Taliban’s ranks after the news of Mulla Omar’s death and the election of Mulla Mansour as his successor. He further stressed that he would not be part of any future statements or talks. He has called keeping the death of Mulla Omar secret and announcing a new leader outside the country ‘historic mistakes’. Tayyab Agha is not an inconsiderable figure in the Taliban hierarchy. He had remained close to Mulla Omar during and after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. In 2009, he was named as head of the Qatar political office. He has been credited with taking the Taliban back to talks with the international powers. In June this year, he represented the Taliban at the Oslo Forum in Norway. He was also the main force behind the eventually successful prisoner exchange with the US, securing the release of five Guantanamo inmates in return for the US soldier Bowe Bregdahl. He is considered independent of Pakistani influence. It is also believed that all but Agha at the Qatar office support Mulla Mansour. This development highlights the real fissures that have opened up after the news of Mulla Omar’s death was released. The new leader, Mulla Mansour, is considered close to Pakistan and pro-peace talks. Although others, including the group that has coalesced around Mulla Omar’s son Yaqoob, are opposed to the talks and favour continuing the armed struggle till final victory, the pro-talks group too is not united. They have differences over who should lead the talks, the Qatar political office, considered less amenable to Pakistani influence, or the Quetta-based Mansour faction. Afghanistan and its infant peace talks process therefore have entered a period of extreme uncertainty. That effect has already been seen in the postponement of the talks. The peace process now faces a great many challenges and may prove extremely difficult. At this juncture, it cannot be ruled out that nothing may emerge from the talks even if they resume. The alternative is a continuation of the war in Afghanistan, with its possible spillover effects on Pakistan, just breathing a sigh of relief at the rollback of its own Taliban movement. The great dilemma is that the Taliban may well splinter into many groups, as has happened under stress to the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan’s ability to influence a fractured Afghan Taliban movement and keep it wedded to the peace talks process may face an uphill task as a result. One other possible fallout of such a development would be the opening of the door to the further ingress of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan, with disgruntled Taliban elements flocking to the banner of the ruthless IS. It is Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s mutual interest to keep themselves above the internal Taliban fray and stick with the peace partners led by Mulla Mansour who favour a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan conflict. Spoilers and detractors of the peace process notwithstanding, all stakeholders will have to stay the difficult course if Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region, not to mention the world, are to turn the leaf on an Afghanistan perpetually at war within.

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