Can’t keep ’em out?
It is official now. Taliban will be opening their laision office in Doha, Qatar, with Tayyab Agha as their representative. Agha was a First Secretary at the Afghan diplomatic mission in Pakistan during the Taliban reign and has been the Taliban representative in secret talks with the Americans and to some extent with the Germans as well. The Bonn Agreement has, therefore, been stood on its head.
The Doha office will act as a post office when stakeholders begin negotiations to devise a workable formula for lasting peace in Afghanistan. It is a work-in-progress. No more. Still ten years later and through a gradual process the world players seem to accept Taliban as a force to reckon with in Afghanistan. A reality that cannot be wished away.
After demonising the Taliban for a decade, the states fighting a war against the Taliban will now openly engage with them.
Even if the opening of the Taliban political office in Qatar comes as a surprise to those who believed that the Taliban were in the process of being vanquished, the policy struggle in the US eventually tilted from the Pentagon to the State Department in Washington’s new phase.
Pakistan has undoubtedly been a key player in this development which is evident by the ISI Chief’s visit to Qatar last month where apparently all this was firmed up. Even during US secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan in October 2010 and her deliberations with senior officials here, it had transpired that US did finally see wisdom in Pakistan’s position of giving peace a chance and that there had been some change in the Obama Administration’s ‘kill-kill’ policy towards the Taliban. The continued violence and bloodshed in Afghanistan made it finally realise that the policy of advocating a dialogue with the Taliban while pursuing a ‘kill-kill’ policy on the ground had miserably failed.
The US policy of the last ten years has contributed little to peace in Afghanistan despite the fact that it cost thousands of Afghan and some American lives and billions of dollars.
To be fair to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, the first statement he gave upon his arrival was that he was willing to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban. But few will recall how within hours he received a public reprimand from Washington proclaiming that no Taliban were good for engagement. Later on, we heard of the good Taliban and the bad Taliban. For a decade most of Washington sought only killing and capturing of the Taliban and they may have succeeded. But the best case scenario that very few may subscribe to is that while Taliban may have been marginally weakened, the US won nothing but hate, anger and extremism in Afghanistan. It is this reporting and the rising economic problems within the US itself that have compelled many within the US to critique this existing Washington policy.
Just for historical recall, others who contributed in keeping the Taliban out of the Bonn process too have regretted, perhaps only a few years earlier. For example Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nation’s official who led the 2001 Bonn Conference, admitted in his 2009 interview with The New York Time journalist Barbara Crossette that if there was anything he miscalculated, it was keeping the Taliban out of the political process.
It is unlikely that the opening of the Taliban political office in Doha can ring immediate peace bells but it certainly signals a step in the direction that many have argued has greater chances of bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been torn and destroyed in so many ways and for so long that peace-making is akin to putting together a broken egg. It’s a tough and arduous task. It will require time, patience and above all mutual trust among all – starting with Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US.
The writer is a senior journalist and has been a diplomatic correspondent for leading dailies. She was an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow at The Chicago Tribune in the US and a Press Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, UK. She can be reached via email at [email protected]