The Days After, While The Ink is Still Wet
The Doha Peace Effort is fast losing its euphoric fragrance. Both Kabul and Abdullah have made it clear that they do not accept the conditions for the intra-Afghan dialogue. The US appears to be using internal political compulsions to drive its shameful exit from Afghanistan. A direct call between Trump and Baradar is a desperate reach-out for support by the incumbent government in the face of impending elections. As predicted, the Taliban will dictate foreign forces’ exit and have failed to divide the Taliban. The US is now reconciled to the abandonment of Afghanistan. A failed strategy that leaves the region more chaotic 19 years later, based on false premises and false promises to its own people, has led to the present impasse. Pakistan suggested dealing with the Taliban years ago and was told that the Taliban were close to being defeated, as was the rest of the world. In supporting the US efforts to broker peace through compulsion, Pakistan has left itself vulnerable in a vulnerable obtaining environment where its economy is fragile and faces an Eastern threat. Abdullah has declared himself the ruler of the North. Is this the initial step of balkanization?
Ghani’s stand on the prisoner’s swap has shaken the tree. The Taliban insist that the release of their 5000 men for the 1000 government officials they hold (some believe the Taliban hold approximately 3000 in Helmand, Farah, Nimroz, and Nangarhar) is a prerequisite for the 10th March first Intra-Afghan meeting. Ghani does have a valid point of scrutinizing each case before further release. So the meeting has been put on hold. The surprising part is that Khalilzad knew this would fix a problem but pushed ahead regardless. After all, it took nearly a year for him to broker the release of a handful of Americans from Taliban custody in exchange for the Anas Haqqani group. Why would he think this would be speedier? Was his plan to insert such a clause that would scuttle the talks wilfully? Was The White House on board? Khalilzad was, I believe, told well in time to give more thought to the Prisoner swap. He did not heed it.
Taliban have resumed attacks on the government. Have the US attacked Taliban positions at the behest of the Afghan Government? Will the deal hold? Will it collapse? Is this the start of another devastating civil war? Pakistan, whether it likes it or not, is again drawn in as a front-line player. The US Plan seems to be to ignore internal battles as long as they are not targeted. Taliban had 7 Indian captives in the Baghdad-Thakhar area. 3 to 4 are remaining. New Delhi has offered USD 5 million for their release. They must be very important to India!
Internally three power centers have emerged: the Taliban, Ashraf Ghani, and Abdullah Abdullah. Taliban and AG do not get along, nor does the Taliban. However, the Abdullah Abdullah front has some scope. So who will monitor and smoothen the path?
What must be done? Some suggestions to avoid a civil war are:
- China, Pakistan, and Russia call for an initial dialogue of the three in either Islamabad or Beijing. Must focus on a road map. Iran is incorporated later.
- At the Taliban’s request, allow them to open an office in Islamabad.
- Allow the Doha peace plan to proceed, i.e., thinning out US / NATO forces as per plan. Let the US retain Shindand and Bagram Air Bases as requested with not more than 5000 US trainers, Advisors, technicians( I believe already agreed upon).
- Spoilers like India and Amrullah Saleh will attempt to target US locations blaming it on the Taliban. The US and Khalilzad be briefed.
- Relaxing of time frame for exchange of Prisoners.
Islamabad needs to come up with a plan quickly. Taliban need to cool their anger. AG is getting stronger in the center. He has Pakhtun support. With Indian financial backing, he is in for the fight. His call to The Taliban to disassociate itself from Pakistan is a move to divert pressure on himself.
If the situation is allowed to persist, we will witness the Balkanisation of Afghanistan. That in itself poses severe problems for Pakistan.