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 it’s shameful exit from Afghanistan. A direct call between Trump and Baradar is a desperate reach-out for support by the incumbent govt in the face of impending elections. As predicted the Taliban will dictate the exit of foreign forces and having 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. Pak suggested dealing with the Taliban years ago, and was told as was the rest of the World that the Taliban were close to being defeated. Pak has, in supporting the US efforts to broker peace through compulsion left itself vulnerable, in a vulnerable obtaining environment where its economy is fragile and it faces an Eastern threat. Abdullah has declared himself the ruler of the North. Is this the initial step of balkanisation?
Ghani’s stand on the Prisoners swap has shaken the tree. The Taliban insist that release of their 5000 men for the 1000 govt officials they hold ( some believe Taliban hold approx 3000 in Helmand, Farah , Nimroz and Ningarhar ), are a pre requisite for the 10 th March first Intra Afghan meeting. Ghani does have a valid point of scrutinising each case before further release.The Meeting has been put on hold. The surprising part is that Khalilzad knew this would 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 of Anas Haqqani group, why would he think this would be speedier? Was his plan to wilfully insert such a clause that would scuttle the talks? 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 Govt. Have the US attacked Taliban positions on behest of the Afghan Govt?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 Baghdad / Thakhar area. 3 to 4 are remaining. New Delhi. Has offered US 5 Million for their release. They must be very important to India!
Internally three power centres have emerged, the Taliban, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Taliban and AG do not get along, nor does the Taliban – Abdullah Abdullah front have much scope. Who will monitor and smoothen the path? Difficult questions.
What must be done. Some suggestions to avoid a civil war.
- China, Pakistan and Russia to call for an initial dialogue of the three in either Islamabad or Beijing. Must focus on a road map . Iran be incorporated later.
- On the Taliban request , allow them to open an Office in Islamabad.
- Allow the Doha peace plan to proceed ie, thinning out of 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 centre. 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.