Yesterday in a meeting with President Ghani in Kabul, the Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reaffirmed Islamabad’s supporting of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace initiative. Last month President Ghani offered a ceasefire, prisoner release and recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political party to encourage the group to engage in peace talks. The Taliban leaders did not show any response, the Afghan government is hoping that peace with Taliban will bring peace in Afghanistan. This is a false hope. The Taliban cannot bring peace even if the group join the process. Here are the reasons:
First: Taliban is not a single actor in Afghanistan insurgency
“Afghanistan has the highest concentration of terrorist groups compared to anywhere else in the world.” Currently, over 30 terrorist groups are operating in Afghanistan or have indirect links to the insurgency in the country.
Since its foothold in Afghanistan, Daesh (IS Khorosan) is heavily involved in the kidnapping and beheading Afghan soldiers, targeting and massacring Afghan civilians, especially the Shia Hazaras, and bomb blasting and burning down historical places and sacred shrines in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network is another ruthless terrorist group which has been in war against the Afghan Government for over 40 years. Supported by the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) with strengths of up to 15,000 fighters from Arab countries, Pakistanis, Afghans, Chechen and other Al-Qaeda recruits, the Haqqani Network has been behind many brutal attacks targeting high-ranked officials, Afghan and the US-NATO troops and foreign offices. The group is also supplying new recruits and materials to other insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is trying to “enter into China through northern parts of Afghanistan”; Ansarullah Group which “wants to enter Tajikistan”; the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) which tries to “enter Uzbekistan and then Russia”; and Lashkar e Tayyiba (LeT) which wants to “enter Kashmir through north-eastern areas of Afghanistan” are actively participating in Afghanistan insurgency.
A full list of 30 insurgent groups which are operating or having links to Afghanistan insurgency can be read here.
Therefore, if the Quetta Shura accept Ghani’s peace offer, overnight the Haqqani Network, Daesh Khorosan and dozens other terrorist groups who are wildly waiting in the line will replace the Taliban, recruit their fighters and start a new bloodshed in the country.
Second: a peace deal with which factions of Taliban?
According to the US Defense Secretary James Mattis, only some factions of the Taliban are interested in peace talks but the entirety of Taliban factions to move towards a ceasefire will be a “bridge too far.”
The Taliban is one of the most vigorous militia force in the world. With an estimated core of up to 60,000 fighters, the group is increasingly taking control of Afghanistan’s strategic districts and villages. Though the Taliban appears unlikely to overthrow the Afghan government; however the group poses serious challenges to Ghani’s administration and the US-NATO forces.
In 2007, 13 tribal groups in Waziristan of Pakistan united to form the Pakistani Taliban or Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to wage war against the Pakistan government as well as staging cross-border attacks against the Afghan-US forces.
In addition to these two main Taliban groups, the Taliban group of Mullah Nazir and the Taliban group of Mullah Mohammad Rasool are also operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both groups claimed to have no affiliation with the Taliban and TTP. While Mullah Nazir group had clashed with TTP in Waziristan of Pakistan, close to 100 Taliban militants killed in another clash between Taliban and Mullah Rasool group in 2016 in Afghanistan.
Since each faction of Taliban has its own leadership and fighting tactics, the chances of all groups to come under the Quetta Shura or one of the leaderships is very unlikely. The March 2016 clash between Mullah Rasool fighters and Akhtar Mansoor group in Herat province of Afghanistan is a clear example showing that each group has its own commanding leaders to follow.
Third: Taliban leaders lacks the authority to enter a peace deal independently
The Pakistani accession of Hibatullah Akhundzada as a new leader of Taliban provided the country to have a stronger influence on Taliban. Similarly, the harbouring and presence of TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah and Mullah Rasool groups in Afghanistan has provided Kabul to increase its leverage on Pakistani factions of Taliban. Since the Taliban groups lack a hideout and permanent base of their own, none of the group’s leaders has the power to enter into a peace deal independently.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have been repeatedly accusing each other of harbouring the other’s enemy insurgent groups in their soil. While the Taliban leadership, Quetta Shura, is based in Baluchistan of Pakistan, Islamabad accuses Afghanistan for providing hideouts to TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah in its south-eastern provinces when under pressure by the Pakistani forces.
Currently, both Afghanistan and Pakistan uses one of the factions of the Taliban groups as its proxy war against the other. Therefore, if the Quetta Shura or TTP leader decide to enter into a peace deal, the rival country quickly take action to hinder the process. In 2010, the Taliban deputy leader Mullah Ghani Baradar was arrested by the Pakistani police in the midst of peace progress with the Afghan government. Likewise, Islamabad suspended its peace talks with the TTP after two brazen attacks carried out around Karachi airport in 2014.
Fourth: The Afghan government lacks the capacity to fulfil Taliban’s demands
Even if the Taliban agree to peace talks, the Afghan government lacks the capacity to provide a comprehensive consensus to guarantee the future of the group in the country. While some of the high-ranked Taliban members may be provided seats and security, the Afghan government lacks the capacity to recruit thousands of Taliban members or guarantee their security.
Besides, the Taliban group will not back down without a large share in power and security assurance by one of their own. Seeing the current reality of Afghanistan, President Ghani does not have the capacity (nor the full authority) to share power or guarantee Taliban’s security. At the moment, President Ghani barely has the capacity to replace one of his own ministers or governors. The Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor challenged President Ghani’s decree for over three months until he agreed to be replaced by one of his own party members.
Fifth: How a post-peace deal Afghanistan will look like?
Imagine for a moment that both Afghanistan and Taliban signed a peace deal, what would be the likelihood of post-peace deal Afghanistan?
Overnight the Haqqani Network or the TTP will take the opportunity to recruit the Taliban fighters and increase their operations throughout Afghanistan. Afghanistan will face another stronger enemy who will be more experienced, much brutal and significantly vigorous. These new groups will increase the bloodshed to a new level in Afghanistan, while having the support of their comrade Taliban members in Kabul to back their cause.
Therefore, the possibility is highly likely that the new groups will carry out the mass-killing on the ground, while its comrade in Kabul exploiting the very fabric of the country, Afghanistan constitution and its 17 years achievements.
Sixth: what is a better peace deal?
It is not too late to revise the peace process and include all major insurgent groups in peace talk process.
In 2001 the international community and Afghan power-brokers neglected to invite the Taliban group in Bonn conference to set out the future of Afghanistan. Though the Taliban made their way back to Afghanistan but their absence in the conference has been costed thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Therefore, if the same mistake is repeated in current peace process and the Haqqani Network or TTP or other major insurgent groups are neglected again then the consequences will be another post-2001 Afghanistan or worse.
While acknowledging the fact that entering into a one-by-one peace talks with each individual insurgent groups will be more realistic and attainable. However, considering the numbers of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, such a strategy will be too time-consuming and may take decades if not centuries to reach in peace.
Overall, by analysing the current reality of Afghanistan and noticing many obstacles in peace talk process, the road to a peaceful Afghanistan still appearing to be too dark.