Friday, March 13, 2015

Promising Steps towards Peace?

In an attempt to foster peace in the region, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani pursues a strategy of dialogue and reconciliation with Pakistan, Afghanistan’s Eastern neighbour and the Taliban’s erstwhile backer. With Pakistan and China offering their support, latest peace initiatives appear more promising than recent attempts. There are signs of cooperation and improving relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan as the Pakistani government threatened to arrest or expel Taliban leaders, in case they refuse to negotiate with the Afghan government. In return, Afghanistan has made ‘a string of once unthinkable concessions to Pakistan’ (Guardian, 10.03.2015) and targeted strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) in its eastern provinces neighbouring Pakistan.

However promising developments appear, scepticism about the prospects for peace remains. One major obstacle is the internal rift within the Taliban, which informs the commonly used differentiation between the Taliban as a whole and the so-called ‘reconcilable elements of the Taliban’. Hence, while political leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour is in favour of engagement, commander Abdul Qayum Zakir, who used to be detained in Guantanamo and holds sway over several thousand fighters in eastern Afghanistan, opposes negotiations. According to Reuters, attempts of Mansour to overcome differences with his opponent and convince him to join the negotiating table failed as Zakir believes that only the United States hold real power in the region and negotiations with the Afghan government will be irrelevant.

A further obstacle threatens to delay peace talks – the irreconcilable demands of the Taliban in return for negotiations. In a recent interview, one of Ghani’s aides presumes that the Taliban will not only demand an immediate departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan but also a re-imposing of the harsh interpretation of Islamic law, the movement had enforced during its rule. These demands would be unacceptable for the Afghan government and hence pose the threat of another diplomatic deadlock. The upcoming weeks and months will be crucial for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the future stability of the entire region. One can only hope that Ghani’s attempts succeed and the Taliban will join the government at the negotiating table.

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