Talks between the Afghanistan government and Afghan Taliban are yet to take off as the latter’s leadership remains divided over the issue. Reportedly, major differences lie between two senior Afghan Taliban figures, political leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour and battlefield commander Abdul Qayum Zakir. Mansour favors talks with Kabul, but Zakir, who commands several thousand Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan, considers them “a waste of time”. The two met recently, but failed to resolve their differences. Pakistan, which is acting as an intermediary along with China, has conveyed to the Afghan Taliban leadership that they must sort out internal differences before coming to the table.
It is clear that the process is beset with unique difficulties that have arisen over a decade-long insurgency and the turmoil that precedes it. Bitten by experiences and often at odds over divergent interests, all stakeholders have grown to distrust each other, which doesn’t bode well for the prospects of reconciliation. However, the current scenario is different in the sense that ground realities are evolving, compelling parties to adapt or face fresh consequences. Relations between the Ashraf Ghani-led Afghan government and Pakistan are on the mend. Pakistan’s military is conducting large-scale operations against the TTP in FATA, and seeks Afghanistan’s support against TTP elements residing in Afghan territory. The Afghan government wants Pakistan to exercise its influence over the Afghan Taliban to compel them to enter negotiations. Pakistan can choose to withdraw patronage and create new problems for them if they refuse. With the withdrawal of NATO troops, both Pakistan and Afghanistan deem it in their interest to reconcile with the Afghan Taliban. However, there are serious questions that need to be answered.
The Afghan Taliban are expected to demand withdrawal of remaining US troops in Afghanistan, and President Ashraf Ghani will most likely refuse. Moreover, the Afghan Taliban have not given up on their demand for the implementation of Sharia. They remain wedded to an ideology that doesn’t recognise government structures such the one in Kabul. How will the negotiations iron out such differences? Can President Ashraf Ghani enter into a power-sharing deal with the reclusive Mullah Omar and what would that deal entail? But first, the process must begin.