While Donald Trump’s troop surge sees more US soldiers pouring into Afghanistan against the wishes of all the major players in the region as well as against the wishes of the Taliban who now control over half of the country by conservative estimates, events on the ground appear to be moving in a direction that is preparing the country for a dialogue and reconciliation process with key players which hitherto had been the biggest stumbling bloc to a countrywide return to peace and normalcy.
Today, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani stated,
“From here, I have a message for Pakistan: We are ready for comprehensive political talks. Peace with Pakistan is in our national agenda”.
Between 1996 and 2001, Pakistan maintained normal relations with the generally isolated Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban government that controlled the country after the fall of the Islamic State of Afghanistan (no relation to the terrorist group commonly known as ISIS or Daesh) which was established in 1992.
Today, the Taliban form what could be accurately described as a moderate rebel movement which opposes the central government, albeit one that is at time fragmented and which includes extreme elements.
In spite of this, leading Taliban factions continue to receive genuine popular support from substantial portions of Afghanistan’s largely Pasthun majority.
Russia, China and Pakistan have been calling for a ceasefire to take hold over the country which would allow members of the Taliban to sit down at the negotiating table with the fragile government in Kabul in order to bring the nation stability and coordinate a united front against ISIS terrorists who now operate in parts of the country and are opposed by the government and Taliban alike. Even Iran whose natural sympathies lie with Afghanistan’s Shi’a minority is becoming increasingly supportive of an inclusive peace process as advocated by China, Russia and Pakistan.
The Afghan government has previous sought Russian assistance in helping to foment and oversea a peace process, one which would almost inevitably drawn on the generally good will towards both Russia and even more so China which exists in Islamabad.
Recently, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Russia, Abdul Qayyum stated,
“We would like Russia to help the Afghans as well in order to achieve safety and peace in Afghanistan … We want the relations with Russia to be very good, despite the fact that there have been some problems throughout history.
We wanted the US troops and troops of other Western countries, which have close relations with Afghanistan, to leave Afghanistan long ago. We have now very powerful troops. They fight against terrorism, against Taliban, against Daesh. We can do this”.
In this sense it is becoming increasingly clear that the very Afghan government Trump’s troop surge is supposed to protect, is becoming as tired of endless war as other parties inside and out of Afghanistan.
With all sides calling for a peaceful compromise solution to a conflict which has raged since 2001, US foreign policy is a clear outlier in respect of the general regional consensus over how to best draw the conflict to a close.
If Afghanistan engages in direct talks with Pakistan, this could be the key element necessary to foster an atmosphere of trust and pragmatism between the Kabul government and Taliban leaders. Any peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan requires the active diplomatic participation of Pakistan. Today’s statement from the Afghan President makes such a move more likely.
This also opens the door for a wider cooperative effort for peace that could reasonably include oversight by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which includes as members, neighbour Pakistan, Tajikistan and China. Russia is a founder member while Afghanistan has been an observing state since 2012. This SCO also includes India. Ideally, the organisation could give a collective assurance to both Pakistan and elements in Afghanistan that India does not seek to undermine the regional status quo in the Pakistan-Afghan border regions.
Although the words from the Afghan President are a statement of intent rather than an announcement of an agreement, it is a statement that if put into action, could have wide reaching consequences for regional stability.