Anand Arni, Pranay Kotasthane
March 24, 2015
Pushed by Pakistan-China initiatives, talks look likely between the Taliban and Afghanistan. This could block India’s economic interests in the region
Negotiations between the Afghan unity government and the Taliban appear likely, with the Pakistan military prodding the Taliban to agree to talks. This comes in the wake of unprecedented concessions by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan. He has, over the last few months, acted against Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) militants operating from Afghan soil, provided Pakistan access to TTP prisoners, agreed to send army cadets to Pakistan for training, and engaged directly with Pakistan’s military. All these concessions have come at great political risk with some Afghan leaders expressing disappointment with the overtures.
This is not the first time that efforts have been made to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Under PresidentHamid Karzai, too, several efforts were made, but the Taliban refused to participate, claiming it would talk only to the Americans “who have occupied Afghanistan and are the real power.”
The relevant question to ask then is what differentiates the current efforts from previous ones? And what are the chances that these talks will even begin, leave alone succeed?
One factor is China’s attitude. It is increasingly wary of terrorism entering into Xinjiang via Afghanistan and wants Pakistan to calm the borders. It is with this aim that China took a lead in the Heart of Asia conference, institutionalised the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral dialogue, and played host to a two-member delegation from the Taliban’s Qatar office that visited Beijing in November 2014. The Chinese government is also comfortable working with President Ghani.
Second, the Taliban position has shifted, a change evident after the U.S. helped establish a Taliban presence in Qatar in January 2012. The U.S. also gave in to some of the Taliban’s demands and the UN sanctions regime was recast. In return, the Taliban made some pronouncements, distancing itself from al-Qaeda, and indicated that it is open to a negotiated settlement.