By Akbar Jan Marwat
March 12, 2018
IN an unprecedented move, the Afghan Taliban for the first time, offered dialogue to the US as a means to end the 17 years old conflict in Afghanistan. The Taliban directed the open letter having the peace proposal, to the US legislators and citizens to put pressure on the Trump administration, to withdraw forces from Afghanistan, to end the Afghan quagmire. The dialogue offer by the Afghan Taliban, which came about a month after the bloody attack on Kabul, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, is unique in another sense also. It is for the first time, that the Taliban, have offered a negotiated solution to the US instead of the Ghani Government. The Taliban have in fact made it clear, that they consider the Ghani regime only a puppet of the Americans, and thus not worthy of a dialogue. On previous occasions the Taliban had agreed to talk with the Afghan regime and not the occupying US forces.
This offer of dialogue from the Taliban has come in the backdrop of a more aggressive policy from the US forces, as well as a more determined and bloody response from the Taliban. The aggressive American Policy of surge in air strikes may have pushed the Taliban from some district and provincial centres; but large swathes of country side still remains under the control of the Taliban, with their ability of striking in the heart of the urban centres very much intact. The large number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2017 may have acted as a factor in prompting Afghan Taliban to extend the dialogue offer to the US. The offer even if not accepted by the US, will certainly give favourable publicity to the Afghan Taliban. The world will see them as a force, which is willing to the give dialogue a chance to resolve an international conflict.
Both the Afghan government and the United States may spurn the Taliban dialogue offer. But the offer does represent a gradual evolution in Taliban war strategy and propaganda. The peace letter also reflects a division between the hardliners and the moderates in the Taliban ranks. The very issuance of the dialogue letter reflects the clout of the moderate wing, which believes that dialogue and negotiations are the only way out of the present imbroglio in Afghanistan. The dialogue letter, which is addressed to the citizens and lawmakers of the US may resonate with the anti-war lobby in America. If the US was to objectively analyse this peace offer from the Taliban, it should account for it in its new policy for South Asia. America’s positive response to the call for peace talks would vindicate its position that it wants a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan, as well as greater stability in the region.
The US administration, however, seems to be divided in their response to the Taliban peace overtures. President Trump is obviously sticking to his bellicose and hard line policy of not talking to the Taliban; but his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has hinted at the possibility of US talks with “moderate voices in the Taliban”. Mr. Tillerson has even gone as far as to suggest that the reconcilable elements amongst the Taliban can even become part of the Afghan unity government. According to objective annalists, the hawks in the American administration must realise that the 17 years old war in Afghanistan is unwinnable through military means only. It must be realistically analyzed by the American government, that when they could not win the war with more than a hundred thousand troops in Afghanistan, how could they hope to win by redeploying only a few thousand troops and using increased air power?
Old terrorist threats in the shape of Al Qaeda persist, while new ones in the form of so-called Islamic State (IS) are in the ascendant. Under these circumstances, the US should heed the Taliban offer of a dialogue, as continued fighting and even an upsurge in US air strikes will not make any material difference on the ground. As is evident, the Taliban are still controlling most of the countryside, in spite of American bombing blitz to break the stalemate. The US must realize that without its active support, the peace process in Afghanistan will not be able to take off as was illustrated by the clandestine but unsuccessful peace talks about the Afghan crises in: Pakistan; Turkey; china; and Russia. Senior Afghan security officials like Masoom Shonekzai, and Hanif Atmer are also said to be in some clandestine negotiations with the Taliban.
In a latest development, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, once again offered peace talks on behalf of the Afghan government to the Taliban. The Taliban response to the peace talks was, however, luke warm, declaring the Ghani regime only a puppet of the Americans. Talks with such a proxy may not bear any fruit according to the Taliban. Pakistan on its part must also play its sincere role in trying to bring the US the Afghan unity government, and the Taliban to the dialogue table. All the concerned parties must realise, that however, untenable a peace process may look, it is the only hope of bringing peace to the beleaguered region.