US-Taliban peace talks: Pakistan’s political fortunes set to revive, India concerned


June 20, 2013

According to Pakistani media reports, the deal came about largely because of a personal relationship between Kerry and Kayani.

June 20, 2013

According to Pakistani media reports, the deal came about largely because of a personal relationship between Kerry and Kayani.

NEW DELHI: A prospective Afghan political deal crafted by Kerry and Kayani threatens to sink Karzai. As the Taliban set up an office in Doha to start peace talks with the US dressed up in their old flag and named the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan, in one fell swoop, the gesture has marginalized Hamid Karzai, presaged a future Taliban role in the Afghan government and revived Pakistan's political fortunes with the US.

The new situation has profoundly negative implications for India's security, particularly if the Haqqani network is added to the talks as Pakistan desires. India has promised to take up the issue with US secretary of state John Kerry during the strategic dialogue to be held here next week.

In Baghdad, foreign minister Salman Khurshid said, "We have from time to time reminded all stakeholders about the red lines that was drawn by the world community and certainly by the participants should not be touched, should not be erased and should not be violated." The "red lines" included a renunciation of Taliban's links with al Qaida and an acceptance of the Afghan constitution. However, its been a couple of years that the US has abandoned all preconditions for talks with the Taliban.

India is one of the largest donors to Afghanistan's stabilization, but India has a minimal role in the political chess-game currently under way, which will minimize India's security concerns in the larger transition.

Officials in Kabul said, despite repeated assurances to Karzai by the US, the Taliban went ahead to set themselves up almost as a government in exile. Their initial statement said, as an afterthought, that they could even talk to "Afghans", but not the government. With the Taliban also opening talks with Iran as well as with the former Northern Alliance, the US, helped by Pakistan, could be preparing the way to bring the Taliban back into government in Kabul, a decade after they were removed from power by the US invasion.

For the present, the Taliban in Doha, with the blessings of the US and Qatar, is more than an Afghan insurgent group. Just by the very fact that they are not in Afghanistan, its very easy for them to scale up their international profile to position themselves as a challenger or alternative Afghan government.

Its clear the Taliban are sitting at the table because Pakistan has played a key role in getting them there. While Mullah Omar is believed to have agreed to the talks, the fact is that all the Taliban leaders in Doha have a strong Pakistan connection, with their families all living in Pakistan.

According to Pakistani media reports, the deal came about largely because of a personal relationship between Kerry and Kayani. Quoting unnamed Pakistan military officials, a report in Pakistan's Express Tribune said, "The hardliners among the Taliban ranks did not want to give any space to US forces. They had realised that by stalemating international forces they had actually won militarily. It was Pakistan's turn to use its influence even though everyone in Washington had deep doubts about the Taliban showing flexibility. Our pitch to the Taliban was that by becoming part of the dialogue process they could gain international sanction, end conflict peacefully and achieve their goals of foreign forces exiting their country much more swiftly than through perpetual conflict."

Karzai angrily suspended security talks with the US, as Washington scrambled to save the Doha talks by getting the Taliban to take down the offending banner. No peace talks started between the US and Taliban on Thursday, and a visit by the Afghan High Peace Council to Qatar on Friday too was cancelled. In Kabul, Karzai called in envoys from Russia and China and India to brief them on his position, even as Kerry tried to pacify him about the talks.

While the US takes some time to pacify Karzai, sources said the first deals the US would be looking for includes the release of a US soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, in Taliban custody. On Thursday, Taliban spokesmen said he could be released in return for five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. The US has not yet agreed to that though there may be some offer of keeping the prisoners in Bagram rather than Cuba.

Second, the US will seek safe passage from the Taliban for their equipment and weapons as they prepare to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban may have entered peace talks but only on Wednesday they carried out an attack for which they even claimed responsibility. It's clear the forthcoming negotiations will be arduous, where the Taliban have the advantage of waiting for their demands to be met, while the US is heading for the exits.

Courtesy: TOI