The Future Of Peace Talks With Taliban Is Unclear

News Analysis

Several regional developments have given Afghan Taliban leadership much confidence in dealing with Washington, both at the military as well as the political level. Therefore, they have stepped up their attacks on US forces and Afghan government forces inside Afghanistan, while completely disregarding the US antics of suspending talks with Taliban’s Doha office.

Taliban are now dealing directly with all the regional military powers neighboring Afghanistan, which see Taliban as countervailing force to the rise of ISIS in Northern, Eastern and Western Afghanistan.

Taliban forces have cooperated with Iranian Special Forces in their attacks on ISIS militants in different parts of Afghanistan. It has been reported that Russian are also helping Taliban in meeting the threat of ISIS. Similarly Chinese are also in contact with the Taliban.

All these developments seemed to have given Taliban the confidence to disregard US antics of discontinuing talks.

What if Taliban refuses to listen to anybody to stop terror attacks on Afghan government and US forces inside Afghanistan? What will become of peace talks in such a situation? Will it be very embarrassing for Pakistan? What will be the diplomatic and foreign policy cost for Pakistan of such a scenario developing in Afghanistan?

These and such other questions were thoroughly deliberated upon inside Pakistan’s foreign policy establishment since the beginning of the process of US-Afghan Taliban peace talks as Pakistani officials played a key role in bringing Taliban to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officialdom was convinced that there was no way they could have influenced the decision-making process of Afghan Taliban to stop terror attacks on Afghan government and US forces inside Afghanistan. Pakistani officials in their talks with the US officials have also conveyed Pakistan’s inability to stop violence from taking place inside Afghanistan before a final settlement could be reached between US administration and Afghan Taliban.

So far the US has been reacting to increased violence inside Afghanistan by discontinuing talks with Taliban. However it has not completely disconnected itself from Taliban’s Doha office.

Pakistani officials have been acting as mediator between the two sides in the period when talks remained suspended. And in the process Pakistan has remained protected from the negative foreign policy fallouts from the continued violence in Afghanistan. Nobody has so far pointed any fingers towards Pakistan for possible alleged involvement in violence inside Afghanistan.

One of the reasons for this protected space for Pakistan is that it has stayed clear of taking any responsibility for stopping violence in Afghanistan. Pakistani has in fact told the US officials in the official talks that what happens inside Afghanistan is not their responsibility.

Chinese news agency, Xinhua has recently reported that Taliban militants have intensified attacks in Afghanistan following the pause in peace talks between the armed group and the United States delegation in Qatar’s capital Doha, as the militants in the latest offensive have killed nearly two dozen security personnel in the eastern Ghazni province on Saturday. An insider attack claimed the lives of 23 security personnel in Qarabagh district of the eastern Ghazni province on Saturday.

The talks resumed on Dec 7 but were again suspended in the wake of a deadly truck bomb that targeted the main US military base in Bagram, 50 km north of Kabul on Wednesday, which left eight dead including six attackers and injured over 70 others, all of whom civilians.

The Taliban outfit has claimed responsibility, insisting dozens of American soldiers and their local colleagues had been killed.

Taliban’s spokesperson for Qatar office Zuhail Shaheen has reportedly justified the attack on Bagram military base, arguing attacking enemies would continue unless an agreement is reached between the two sides.

Afghan experts, however, are of the opinion that these attacks are a clear indication that Taliban want to maintain an upper hand in talks with US Administration, which has made policy of ending the Afghan war absolutely clear.

Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.