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The Taliban in Paris

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Spearhead Analysis – 12.12.12
Spearhead Research

The official word from the Taliban is that they will be in Paris for discussions with the US and its western allies and with the former Northern Alliance representing the Karzai government in Afghanistan. This is an amazing development on several counts. It indicates that the Taliban are a cohesive organized group with clear cut policies and that they think that the time has come for them to be part of the reconciliation process. It is nothing short of a miracle that they have decided to become a part of the intra-Afghan dialogue supposedly led by the Afghan government but actually a joint US-Pakistan venture.

Not surprising then that President Karzai feels left out and has tried to gain a toehold by blaming the US for the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan for a recent assassination attempt on the Afghan intelligence chief. Mr Karzai knows full well that the attack could have been planned anywhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan but that does not make it something sponsored by the state of Pakistan. The US, in a recently released Pentagon report, has clearly stated that the problem in Afghanistan is the lack of state capacity in Afghanistan, the high level of corruption there and the sanctuaries in Pakistan’s western border areas (created as a result of the fighting in Afghanistan).

It is also not surprising that with the start of the end game in Afghanistan the US and Pakistan are at pains to point out that their rocky relationship is back on track – at least for the 2014 transition in Afghanistan for which the progress in 2013 is critically important. A 25 member US delegation participated in the US-Pakistan Defense Consultative Group meeting in Pakistan and both sides expressed satisfaction at the positive outcome. There have been other discussions between the two countries on energy and economic issues. The Pakistani Foreign Minister declared the US-Pakistan relationship ‘back on track’ with all issues resolved and accompanied by the Army Chief she was in Brussels for discussions and briefings that seem to have gone well.

Given the track record of the US-Pakistan relationship Pakistanis may be forgiven for asking if all this is for real and sustainable after 2014 or is it to get Pakistan on board till the transition in Afghanistan is completed without a serious mishap?. After all when the US left after the USSR exited from Afghanistan, not only was Pakistan left to face the blow-back but it was also slapped with sanctions unable to effectively support the indigenous uprising in Kashmir against Indian atrocities. Pakistan has responded positively to US overtures and the Taliban it holds are being released – free to travel and participate in the negotiations that might lead to political stability in Afghanistan. There is a realization all around that the reconciliation and dialogue track could eventually lead to the all important phase of direct US-Taliban negotiations with Pakistan’s support.

The danger of failure on the reconciliation front is that there may be reversion to a civil-war environment given the fact that warlords are alive and well. Ismail Khan’s recent gathering in Herat indicated that this could happen. There is also the realization that with continued US presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 the Taliban could not depend on external support in an all-out bid for power – as they had attempted earlier. The fact that Pakistan wants peace and stability in Afghanistan to deal with the insurgents in its western border areas and that it wants Afghanistan to deny support and sanctuaries to such groups creates convergence in objectives. Trouble may come from a split in the Afghan government ranks – if Karzai decides to play hard ball especially because of the remarkable cohesion being displayed by the Taliban. Much will also depend on how many US troops stay on in Afghanistan with guesses that put the figure anything between 10000 to 25000), what kind of a status of forces agreement is drawn up for these troops and significantly on the capacity of the Afghan security forces.

(Spearhead Analyses are the result of a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual)