Thursday, July 30, 2015

Afghanistan must walk peace path with Taliban


The growing influence of Islamic State militants lends more urgency to the push for national unity


Any day now representatives of the Afghan government and the Taleban will sit down face-to-face for their second round of peace talks, which are being mediated by Pakistan.

China and the United States oversaw the first round of talks and are expected to maintain their role, lending much-needed political heft to the process.

The aim of the talks is to find a way to end the 14-year-old war in the country.

Finding a peaceful solution to this bloody stalemate has been a top priority for Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani since he took office last year. Demonstrating his determination, Ghani has made earnest concessions, including permitting Pakistan to play a prominent role despite longstanding mistrust between the two countries.

The deep-seated mistrust of Islamabad stems from Kabul's conviction that the Pakistani military wields influence over the Afghan Taleban.

Ghani has been criticised by fellow Afghans for his decision to court Pakistan, but he deserves credit for grasping this opportunity to end the deadlock and for shepherding the peace process this far.

Demands being made by the Taleban during the course of the talks include its removal from United Nations and United States blacklists, which would enable members to travel outside the country. This, along with the establishment of a permanent office in a "neutral" country, would garner legitimacy for the Taleban as a political organisation.

Kabul, on the other hand, is likely to press for a ceasefire, which would give its depleted forces much-needed relief. Amid the withdrawal of significant numbers of Nato soldiers, Afghan troops are now bearing the brunt of the insurgents' push.

The atmosphere at the first round of talks was reportedly upbeat, with delegates from each side seen hugging each other. However, hugging and cheek-kissing are polite formalities in Afghanistan and do not necessarily signify amity. No one should be fooled into thinking that the road to peace will be straight and smooth. Fighting on the battlefield continues unabated.

This week Taleban rebels captured a large police base on the northeast border with China, while their advance in northern Kunduz province has overrun some 80 villages and forced hundreds of families to flee.

Meanwhile Ghani's troubles extend beyond the Taleban, to the tribal chiefs, whose fiefdoms are beyond state control. This week a gun battle between supporters of two rival warlords killed 21 people at a wedding in northern Baghlan province.

If the power of these clan-based militias goes unchecked, their illegal businesses and blood feuds will continue to undermine the authority of Ghani's government and administrations that follow.

The country's unarmed ethnic minorities are another group the president cannot afford to overlook in his bid to unify the country. Ghani has come this far in getting his government sit down and talk peace with the Taleban. There is no reason why he can't go the extra mile by ensuring that minority interests are represented in his administration.

Underscoring the urgency of the peace negotiations is the growing presence of the so-called Islamic State in the region. The Islamic State has demonstrated utter disinterest in any political compromise or settlement and is instead committed to a brutal and expansionist pseudo-religious rule.

The Taleban, by coming to the negotiating table, has shown it is willing to settle for something less than the complete overthrow of the Kabul government. But the longer these two sides take to reach a sustainable settlement, the more ground the Islamic State will gain. The Nation Bangkok


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