Af-Pak Diary

Talks with the Taliban: A Post Mortem

28 Jul, 2013    ·   4057

D Suba Chandran deconstructs the failure of the recent talks and the reasons behind it

What was touted as the Doha process – negotiations with the Afghan Taliban -- appears  to be dead now. There was a parallel initiative within Pakistan, between the government and the Teherik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which also appears to be in limbo.

Why have the much talked about negotiations with the Taliban – Afghan and Pakistani varieties -- not yielded substantive results – either in terms of the process, or in terms of the outcome? Are the objectives totally different between the stakeholders? Is there no meeting point? Or are these processes a chimera, to hoodwink public opinion, and buy more time?

The 'Moderate' Taliban: American Discovery or Invention?
With the Afghan Taliban, the Doha process is not the first initiative. Ever since the Americans discovered (or perhaps invented) the “Moderate Taliban” (referred also as the “Good Taliban”) there have been multiple attempts in negotiating with them. While some of these attempts did result in established contact with the Taliban, there were also instances of being fooled by those who projected themselves as having reach into the Taliban leadership, especially Mullah Omar.

In retrospect, it appears that none of the above attempts had the approval of the Afghan leadership, especially the Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omar. It is clear now, that unless the Afghan Taliban leadership is directly involved, any attempt to negotiate would be futile.

Pakistan's Role
Besides the involvement of the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan has been playing a role (perhaps until the Doha process last month) in scuttling whatever was taking place with the Taliban.

Two primary reasons could be identified for Pakistan playing a negative role in the previous attempts. First, the US or whoever led the initiative on behalf of Washington, did not keep Pakistan in the loop, especially the military leadership and the ISI. Despite the “close” US and Pakistan relationship, the former did not trust the latter, and hence kept Kayani and Pasha outside the loop. Nor did the Taliban leadership, despite its own “close” relationship with a section of Pakistan’s military and its ISI, inform the latter.

As a result, Pakistan has not only been apprehensive, but it has also been angry with any dialogue process with the Taliban behind its back. The GHQ would prefer that it either leads the show with the US and the Afghan Taliban present, or is kept totally informed and a close observer in the process. It appears now that the latter was the reason behind Pakistan’s comfort level in the failed Doha process.

Karzai and Kabul
Where do Karzai and Kabul stand in the dialogue process with the Taliban? In principle, Karzai has already agreed to a dialogue process with the Afghan Taliban. The High Peace Council has the popular mandate of the Afghan people, Karzai and his administration.

Why then did Karzai play a spoilsport in the Doha process? The reasons are similar to why Pakistan did. Karzai, his administration and the rest of country would like to see this dialogue with the Taliban as “Afghan Owned and Afghan Led”, instead of being dictated or decided by others. There is a general fear in Kabul today that the dialogue process (in Doha) was being completely hijacked by outsiders and the Afghan government absolutely sidelined.

Worse, there is a bigger fear that there might be a larger collusion between the US and Pakistan in imposing a solution on Kabul on the Taliban.

The Million Dollar Question: Is the Taliban Interested in a Dialogue?
The primary reason for the failure of all earlier attempts to dialogue with the Afghan Taliban’s leadership seems to be the latter’s interest in such an attempt.

Why should the Afghan Taliban leadership negotiate with the US? The Afghan Taliban seems to be playing a waiting game. With the 2014 deadline approaching fast, the Taliban leadership seems to be well aware of the international fatigue over Afghanistan; it is unlikely that the international community will be engaged in Afghanistan, especially on economic and investment sectors. The US, as has been clearly indicated by Obama, is winding up its military operations. While Obama's “Zero Option” may have totally surprised the Taliban leadership, this is what they are expecting. On other side, there are huge expectations from the Afghan people and Karzai is seen as a huge disappointment.

Clearly, the Taliban is not in a hurry. Why would it hurry or enter into a dialogue with the US? All it has to do is to sit tight and wait till December 2014.

If the above is the case, why would the Taliban agree to the Doha process? Perhaps, it has nothing to lose. Perhaps, it is making a statement; the fact that it used its flag and the “Emirate of Afghanistan” in Doha much before the dialogue could start – clearly projects the Taliban’s state of mind. Perhaps, the Taliban did that deliberately to ensure that the process fails. Has the collapse of Doha process affected Taliban? Rather, the subsequent developments and statements from Kabul and Washington lead one to conclude, that the Doha collapse has only strengthened the Taliban.

There could be a few more processes, perhaps in Paris or in Istanbul. But none would succeed. The Taliban is playing a waiting game. Americans should keepwatch, for time is on Taliban’s side.