Will Quadrilateral Talks end fifteen years long war in Afghanistan? What will be offered to the Taliban when foreign troops are still at large in Afghanistan?
By M. Tahir Khan
The last round of Quadrilateral talks held on 23rd February, 2016 on the Afghan peace process in the Afghan capital Kabul. The meeting was attended by Afghan Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing and US Charge d’Affaires, David Lindwall.
The joint press release issued by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pakistan welcomed the strong statement by Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in which he showed his strong commitment of the Afghan government for peace and reconciliation with Taliban and Hezbi Islami Hekmatyar to join direct talks with Afghan Government. Meeting in its joint statement invited all Taliban and other groups to participate through their authorized representatives to talk with Afghan government in the first round of direct talks to be held in first week of March in Pakistan.
4th session of Quadrilateral meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan.
What Afghan government can offer to Taliban and other opposition groups?
Afghan Taliban’s basic and most important demand, the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan is not going to meet, even US government is planning to bring more troops to help out falling Afghan forces.
Why Afghan forces will now accept offer to come on table when they are in a clear better position than their opponents, when they are achieving targets and Afghan National Army is on back foot. Past months showed, Afghan forces trained by US and British troops in the last fourteen years, failed miserably in two fronts in volatile province of Helmand, which also raise many questions on capacity of Afghan National Army as well.
Furthermore, talks and negotiations with Afghan government will weaken the Taliban leaderships in their cadres which they will never like to. However, as a good will gesture before first direct talks to be scheduled in first week of March, the government withdrew security forces from the Musa Qila district in Helmand province and handed over the control to Taliban.
If Afghan government has nothing to offer to the Taliban then talks will never prove to be fruitful and possibility of peace looks just a hope.
Why now Afghan government interested in talks?
First, President Asharaf Ghani’s government has realized that they had recently suffered some major military setbacks, and their Army is unable to hold their footprint on the already controlled territory of Kabul government. Furthermore, the change of command in Afghan Taliban from Mullah Umar to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor didn’t reduced their strength but enhanced their capacity to hit a more weak force in the absence of direct support of US and NATO troops. This realization also highlighted last year in October after the fall of Kunduz in the hands of Afghan Taliban, when Afghanistan Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah said fall of Kunduz shows we need foreign forces.
Secondly, Afghan government understands that war will increase with the arrival of spring season and Taliban will enhance their attacks on government installations. In the absence of lesser US and UK troops and lack of foreign supply in the form of dollars government has clear understanding that they have to engage opponents to avoid heavy attacks on their forces and installations.
Map showing strength of Afghan Taliban on Afghan territory.
Why US government wants to bring Afghan Taliban on table?
First, In US, there has been a realization that if foreign troops will leave Afghan government at their own, Afghanistan will become another Iraq, which US government doesn’t want to happen. The situation of Afghanistan is worse than ever before since September 2001, now Taliban are holding more territory after Afghan War, whereas US troops with total strength of ten thousand can only do surgical operations, but cannot hold territory.
Second, in Afghan war since 2001, US had suffered at large, if we look into figures it will be a huge loss; in total 3508 coalition troops have died and out of them 2377 were from USA and the war has cost over $686 billion as of 2014. As reported by Economist at one point World Banks recorded that Afghan economy is 90% aid dependent, however now coalition forces are a its minimum now, there is less foreign aid coming into country, Afghan government is facing difficulty in managing its affairs and the result is in front of us, we can see what is happening and Kabul is losing its control day by day. Third, weak Afghan government and civil war like situation in the country create a vacuum which everyone is believes is being filled by Islamic State. Islamic State is recruiting from the cadres of Afghan Taliban and also from the Pakistani Taliban which being forced out of FATA after Pakistan Army’s successful operations. This thinking brought US and is coalition groups to bring all stakeholders on a negotiating table to settle down a 14 year long war, if US will leave Afghanistan without any settlement, there are less doubts that it will become another Iraq for United States.
What are Russian and Iranian Interests?
Russians have also concerns in Afghanistan, last week, Russian President’s spokesman Zamir Kabulov urged the Taliban to start direct talks with Kabul and hoped such negotiations will be bring peace in Afghanistan.
Russians are also concerned about ISIS presence in Afghanistan, and their biggest worry is the passage of terrorists and insurgents with former Soviet Republics bordering Afghanistan. Foreign Affairs Magazine reported last month that Russian fear that jihadis from its Caucasus Region and from former Republican States would joins ISIS in Iraq in Syria and then return home more trained, more lethal than before. In Afghanistan Russian sees Islamic State Affiliate Khorasan as the threat where in local Jihadis and Pakistan Taliban are participating.
As far as Iran is concerned, in Afghanistan Iran was also blamed for supporting Afghan Taliban with Cash & Weapons. In June 2015, Wall Street Journal reported that Shiite Tehran is supporting Sunni Taliban by providing them cash, arming them and also training them and posing a threat to Kabul’s security. Iran considers twofold, first it can reduce US influence and secondly by strengthening Taliban it can reduce vacuum for the growth of ISIS in Afghanistan. Iran understands if there is space due to weakness of Taliban it will be filled by Islamic State in Afghanistan which Iran does’nt want any way.As per Wall Street report Iranian denied any coordination with the
Afghan Taliban for supporting them. Historically relation between Shiite regime and hardline Sunni Taliban never remained exceptional.
Map showing bordering area of Afghanistan with Pakistan.
What are Indian interests in Afghanistan?
Indian interests are a matter of concern for all, successful negotiations if carried forward will reduce Indian influence in Afghanistan, as we had witnessed last year when Mullah Umar’s death details were released it actually served Indian interests. In contemporary scenario, India has invested a lot in Afghanistan and is backing the Afghan government of Uzbek and Tajik ethnicity against Taliban.
Afghanistan remained a playground for all groups, now in quadrilateral talks all groups came because of their interests own interest in Afghanistan and will remain in the same position for the coming period as well. All stakeholder whether lesser or larger interest will function and invest for safety and security of their interest only.