The first face-to-face talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are to take place in early March in Islamabad. A statement released on Tuesday at the conclusion of the fourth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group in Kabul said that the participants are asking groups of Taliban and other militant groups to introduce their representatives for participating in the first direct peace talks with the Afghan government. The group has also agreed in its Kabul meeting to form a working group of Afghanistan and Pakistan to talk and garner endorsement of the two countries’ religious scholars in both countries in support of Afghanistan’s peace efforts. The announcement of the timing for the start of direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the militant groups is coming after the four-way coordination group established a roadmap for the peace process.
There is no response from the Taliban so far over the timing of the first peace meeting set by the quadrilateral coordination group. It is not clear whether Taliban will come forward and participate in the first face-to-face talks with the Afghan government. The Taliban have not been involved in the four-way talks to establish a roadmap for peace negotiations. However, Pakistan, who is believed to have considerable influence over the Taliban, has been playing the role of key facilitator in the talks for preparing a plan for peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban factions.
One of the major objectives of the four-nation coordination group was to specify and outline responsibilities of every country for preparing the ground for peace negotiations. Therefore, it could be assumed that the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan have made contacts with the Taliban and other militant groups through the Afghan High Peace Council and other unofficial channels established in the past years of peace efforts of the Afghanistan government. However, there are different militant groups operating under or out of the Taliban umbrella group. It is assumed that the Afghan and Pakistani governments have made contacts with the main Taliban faction over the resumption of peace talks. The four-nation initiative must be waiting now for the main Taliban faction led by Mullah Mansoor to confirm for participation in the upcoming peace meeting.
Regarding the rest of the militant groups, the fact is that they are not regarded as a side in the peace talks that would soon start. If the main Taliban faction agrees to come to the table of negotiation, absence of the rest of the militant groups would not fail the plan to hold the first peace meeting within next two weeks. Haqqani network is part of the main Taliban faction. Hekmatyar group has been unstable over time regarding its approach to talk with the Afghan government. This time, the Afghan government expects the group to participate in the talks from the beginning; however, if it does not, Kabul and Islamabad would continue efforts to persuade it to participate in the next round of the talks.
There is a Taliban faction who has drawn much attention and gained publicity since the split of the group after announcement of the death of the Taliban founder and former leader Mullah Omar. The faction led by Mullah Rassoul is officially regarded as a rival group to the faction led by Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Many believe that the split of the Taliban into two rival groups would make the peace process further difficult and complicated. However, the fact is that when it comes to the numerous Taliban groups, the group does not have a place in the calculations of peace. The faction has been pounded hard by Mullah Mansoor faction and many of its key members have rejoined the Mansoor faction. The name of Mullah Rassoul’s faction has been used by politicians and the media magnifying the split of the Taliban group.
Mullah Rassoul’s faction will remain a point in the process of peace talks. It seems that the Afghan and Pakistani governments may purposefully leave the group out of the peace talks as, on one hand, it is not so much powerful, and on the other hand, both Pakistan and the Taliban are opposing it. In addition, the Afghan government predicts a successful process of peace talks with the Taliban to alienate some hard-line militant groups. Those groups would be branded as pro-violence groups who deserve to be pounded militarily. In other words, there have been efforts – as there might be in the future – to differentiate the militants into good and bad groups. For this and for other reasons mentioned, it is highly likely that the Taliban faction led by Mullah Rassoul be left out of the peace negotiations. However, the risk remains that if the peace negotiations lose consensus of key stakeholders, the faction led by Mullah Rassoul as well as other groups could be used by external parties to sabotage the peace process.
Other groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State would not be included in the process as the Afghan government considers them as non-Afghan extremist groups who must be crashed militarily. In the meantime, the agendas and ambitions of the mentioned groups differ from those of the Afghan militant groups. These groups seek global jihad and have ambitions far beyond the borders of Afghanistan. Therefore, talking peace with those groups is practically impossible as they not only seek jihad in Afghanistan but they aim to Afghanistan as their safe havens for expanding their operations in regional countries.
The Taliban have not responded to the timing set for the first peace meeting. A Taliban spokesman has declined to comment over the announced date for direct peace talks. The group has set preconditions for coming to the table of negotiations. Afghanistan and its regional and international backers do not seem to be ready to meet the Taliban’s stated preconditions in a short term. The Taliban have in recent years signaled their readiness for talks. There may delays from the Taliban side to come to the table of negotiations, but most probably they will come to the talks. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)