Afghans Unimpressed by Pakistan Talks
A visit to Pakistan by the Afghan body charged with talking to the Taleban has been hailed as a major step forwards towards ending the insurgency. But analysts in Afghanistan expressed grave reservations, saying the High Peace Council had achieved little at home, so the apparent breakthrough achieved in Islamabad was likely to prove illusory.
During a three-day visit ending on November 14, the High Peace Council delegation met Pakistan’s president, prime minister, foreign minister, the army’s chief of staff and various other politicians and Muslim clerics in a bid to get them to engage wholeheartedly with a peace process for Afghanistan. In practical terms, that also means identifying insurgents who are prepared to negotiate, even if they are in custody.
The talks produced a joint declaration calling on Afghan and Pakistani officials and the international community to work together to get insurgents’ names removed from a United Nations blacklist so they could take part in negotiations, and to ensure safe passage for such individuals.
Afterwards, High Peace Council chairman Salahuddin Rabbani said he believed officials in Islamabad were now committed to a talks process involving the Afghan insurgents.
The council’s spokesman Qiamuddin Kashaf said one success from the meetings was that religious scholars in Pakistan who used to describe the Taleban’s Afghan insurgency as a “jihad” were now supportive of negotiations.
At the council’s request, the Pakistani authorities released nine Afghan Taleban members from prison, although none was a particularly senior figure. Five more were freed subsequently.
An unnamed member of the Taleban's Quetta Council indicated that the group would take the proposed negotiations seriously, according to reports in the Pakistani media.
In Afghanistan, the upper house of parliament or Meshrano Jirga poured cold water on the talks, accusing the High Peace Council of indulging in a one-way dialogue – it made concessions to the Taleban, but secured nothing in return. The releases were just a gift to the insurgents, it said.
Afghan commentators were even less impressed, saying the peace council had achieved no progress towards ending the conflict since it was set up in 2009.
"I do not believe the commitments agreed between the High Peace Council and the Pakistani government at all,” political and defence affairs expert Atiqullah Amarkhel said. “The council itself is in question – it should have been dissolved. It has done this just to demonstrate its achievements, to secure its own survival.”
Many analysts, Amarkhel among them, said pledges of good faith from Islamabad were not to be trusted, since its real stategy involved controlling Afghanistan by providing covert assistance to the Taleban to undermine security.
“The Pakistani government isn’t so stupid that it would cede Afghanistan without securing advantages and achieving its aims," Amarkhel said. "Unless Pakistan is confronted with force, it will never abandon its satanic goals in Afghanistan."
Another political analyst, Satar Saadat, agreed that Pakistan had no reason to abandon a winning position.
“It isn’t possible that Pakistan is going to work honestly with Afghanistan on the peace process, and lose the Taleban, its best military force, by persuading it to negotiate with the Afghan government,” he said.
Saadat also suggested that Islamabad wanted to underline its own central role in the future of Afghanistan, especially in light of a parallel peace process that might exclude it, where negotiations would take place with a Taleban office in the Gulf state of Qatar. (See Afghans Demand Ownership of Taleban Talks Process on this initiative.)
"Recently, Britain and the US decided to restart the Qatar negotiation process. Pakistan wants to sabotage this process, and that’s the reason it adopted a softer line on the demands made by the High Peace Council. In my view, the peace council has been entrapped in a Pakistani plot,” he said.
IWPR contacted several members of the High Peace Council for comment, but all refused to be interviewed.
On the streets of Kabul, people were divided on whether the peace process was heading the right way, or any way at all.
“We should not be downhearted. I believe every war ends though negotiations and a common understanding,” university student Nawid said. "Regardless of whether Pakistan’s intentions are honest, we must convince the Taleban – who are Afghans – that war benefits Pakistan, not us, and that they should stop fighting."
Another Kabul resident, Abdul Qayum, disagreed, suggesting that the peace council was a purely symbolic body that had to travel about and hold meetings to use up its budget and justify its existence.
As for Pakistan, he said, “politicians [there] are not like ours – they wouldn’t support anything that wasn’t to their country’s advantage”.
Hafizullah Gardesh is IWPR editor for Afghanistan.