Taliban’s Quetta Shura, Haqqanis check out peace talks
M. K. Bhadrakumar
Fri., Mar. 24, 2017
A US state department official told Associated Press on Thursday that Washington wants to work with Moscow on regional efforts to end the 16-year Afghan war and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would be discussing this during his visit to the Russian capital on April 12.
The Trump administration’s idea of seeking Russian cooperation to bring about national reconciliation in Afghanistan signifies a radical departure from the consistently negative approach taken by the Barack Obama presidency aimed at keeping Moscow out of the Afghan problem as far and as long as possible. This is of course brilliant news. (See my recent opinion piece in Tribune newspaper titled The grand bargain.)
However, Trump’s best-laid plans in this direction are surely going to run into big headwinds. The NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, US Army General Curtis Scapparotti may have already made a valiant attempt to raise dust by saying on Thursday that he has seen “increased influence” of Russia of late in Afghanistan “and perhaps even supply to the Taliban.” Hot-shot generals do not usually speculate, and the word “perhaps” has simply no place in their vocabulary, but then, this is politics with the objective of caricaturing Russia in adversarial terms.
The Russians promptly hit back saying that the accusation by the general is “absolutely false.” A top Russian diplomat heading the Afghan desk in the foreign ministry, Ambassador Zamir Kabulov retorted that “these statements are fabrications designed to justify the failure of the US military and politicians in the Afghan campaign, we cannot find any other explanation.” (Sputnik)
Indeed, the NATO general could have been indulging in the blame game. The point is, Scapparotti spoke soon after reports appeared that Taliban have captured the strategically-located Sangin district in the southern Helmand province. It is a humiliating setback for the US and NATO since more of their soldiers had been killed in Sangin during the war than in any of the 400-odd districts in the country. (Read a BBC commentary here on the significance of Sangin in the chronicle of the Afghan war.)
But, coming back to Tillerson’s talks in Moscow, it is significant that Trump is taking his time to announce his strategy for Afghanistan. He is apparently pondering over the wisdom of deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan in the absence of an exit strategy. Under the circumstances, there is a good possibility that Trump would sense the rationale behind the regional initiative taken by Russia on Afghan national reconciliation.
Pakistan announced today its intention to take part in the forthcoming Moscow conference. Afghanistan has already stated its participation. Presumably, Iran, China and India also will attend the conference. Meanwhile, AP reported today that Pakistan brought together seven top Taliban leaders for a meeting in Islamabad last week “to try and press them into peace talks ahead of a multi-nation meeting in April in Moscow.”
The Taliban leaders who attended the meeting included key figures in the leadership such as Mullah Muhammed Abbas (who took part in direct talks with the Afghan government in July 2015 in Pakistan), Amir Khan Muttaqi, Mullah Muhammed Turabi, Mullah Saaduddin (from the Quetta shura), Mullah Daud (Peshawar shura) – and, most important, Yahya, a senior member of the Haqqani network, and Latif Mansour, secretary of the Taliban leadership council.
This would suggest that the Taliban could be tiptoeing toward the regional format on Afghanistan soon. Of course, there will be hiccups on the way to the conference table, since some Taliban factions could be counting on an outright military victory and a takeover in Kabul. Pakistan will have to do the heavy lifting, ultimately.
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