JANUARY 2017

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Talking to Taliban: A Road Ahead

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By Manish Rai *

Efforts to end longest American war in the history have been accelerating for some time now. America’s war in Afghanistan marks the longest in the country’s history and risk continuing beyond 2014 when United States wants to pullout but for that they require a graceful exit strategy and a stable Afghanistan. But this is near to impossible without talking to Taliban after fighting for 12 long years United States and Taliban are now on negotiations table as both sides are realising the importance of dialogue. 

The basic cause of the US-Taliban conflict is structural miscommunication i.e. fundamental difference exit in each other perception, understanding, and culture. Both the sides never understood each other but feared each other which reflected in their dangerous behaviour for each other. U.S feared attack and hosting of its enemy’s by the Taliban and retaliated with its sophisticated military technology on the other hand Taliban see US as invaders and threat for its cultural values and reacted by incriminate violent campaign against the NATO and Afghan forces across the country by its dedicated and motivated cadre base which has the good know how of the region. 

Both sides now are realising that the long lasting solution of this conflict can be through talks only. For instance America realise that Taliban have good influence on Pasthun tribe which consists of 46 million people and is the world largest tribe and Taliban ideology have deep roots in Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan where Pasthun tribe resides. On the other side Taliban also know that they cannot beat the military might of world largest military alliance of 28 countries NATO. Taliban know that at most they can destabilise the country by their guerrilla attacks but they can’t overrun it as they did it in 1994-96 unless NATO have a strong military presence in Afghanistan. So, indulging in a dialogue is a viable option for both the parties now. 

Some bottlenecks still exists in the path of this proposed peace process one of them is the position of Afghan President Hamid Karzai who feels his authority is undermined and he is being side lined in these talks. But peace must be the primary concern which for sure Mr Karzai alone can’t deliver. Other such issue is the conservative and orthodox nature of the Taliban movement whose adamant attitude over some issues like-Women education, strict implementation of Sharia, and unacceptance of democracy can hinder the talks. 

Both United States and Taliban at least for this time looks serious for talks like-When Taliban opened their political office in Qatar’s capital city of Doha it was the first time in a dozen years that the world had gotten to see the insurgent’s inner circle and they seemed different. Urban and educated, they conducted interviews in foreign languages like-English, Arabic, French, and German with easy fluency and look more willing to negotiate. One of member of Quetta Sura (Highest Decision making body of Afghan Taliban)  while talking to the media said all the representatives that are selected and send to Qatar for talks belong to the political wing and none have a military background and are selected by the top leadership.  He added we don’t need to send commanders as we are not going to fight in Doha. On the other hand US is also taking these proposed talks seriously as it appointed senior diplomats for the process and trying to persuade all the stakeholder’s to participate. The US delegation to the Taliban talks will be led by Douglas Lute, Obama’s Chief advisor on Afghanistan and James Dobbins the State Department’s new special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan which clearly shows that this time Whitehouse closely wants to monitor the talks. 

Back home in Afghanistan though some contradictions exists like- Fierce fighting still going on, Taliban fighters waging suicide attacks, attacking government establishments, ambushing the NATO conveys. These contradictions offer a picture of top Taliban leadership taking advantage of two different tracks-orchestrating the fighting elements even while setting up a new international diplomatic foothold in Doha. Talib’s are simultaneously following a political and military option which may raises the relevancy of peace talks but it just seems like a tactic to exert pressure for getting a good deal during negotiations. When the previous effort to open a Taliban office in Qatar collapsed in March 2012 many analysts saw that as a result of a split between Taliban officials in the political leadership and their military commanders but some Western officials also note that when Mullah Omar and his closest aides makes a decision it does seems to get carried out and they think this time decision has come from the top leadership. 

If both the parties United States and Taliban negotiate with open mind and without any pre-notions for each other this time and Afghanistan neighbours especially Pakistan played a positive role in this reconciliation process then this time definitely some concrete peace formulation will emerge which will help the millions of Afghans who have been crushed and devastated because of this bloody long war and moreover it will add to the stability and security of the region as a stable Afghanistan is very much required not only for security of its neighbouring countries but for whole world. But if this time also this peace process turned out to be a just a futile exercise then nobody knows that after how many more years stage for talks will be built again as there will be a trust deficit for both the sides which will take a long time to fulfil. 

* Author is freelance columnist based in New Delhi and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

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