Taliban succession and implications


Twists and turns

Fresh news from Afghanistan means at least one of the principal parties would have to take a step back from recent, reactionary positions. With both Islamabad and Washington once again pressuring Kabul to resume negotiations, perhaps President Ghani will consider giving the talks one last chance. And seeing how Mullah Mansour has finally cemented his place at the top of the Taliban, maybe he, too, will follow the script and give the Spring Offensive a break, even if temporarily. Once again, therefore, there is a possibility – however minute – of finally bringing the fighting to an end this year.

Yet news from across the Durand Line is hardly ever so straight forward. True, Ghani went out of his way to talk. But he also staked his already shaky presidency on the thaw with Pakistan. And when the Mullah Omar story broke, he naturally switched gears before letting events fold him completely. The opportunity cost of re-engineering the controversial policy posture so soon is simply too high, unless there are guarantees. And there are never guarantees with the Taliban, especially since their position is also shakier than it looks when it comes to talks.

It took some wriggling, but Mansour was able to finally establish himself at the top of the Afghan Taliban. And he had to beat plenty of war drums to earn the rank and file’s respect and loyalty. He could not disassociate from the Spring Offensive in favour of talks immediately, of course, especially when this year’s attack was the most potent on record, and field commanders were unable to understand the logic of talks at this stage. For him to follow the hard work – jirga meetings, Mullah Omar’s family’s agreement, etc – with a sudden about turn also does not make much sense.

But that, of course, would frustrate onlookers and stake holders all around, especially in Washington. It cannot be mere coincidence, of course, that the Mansour development took place when the AfPak envoy was in Islamabad. While all sides need to nudge developments, hopefully nobody will favour arm twisting clients through half-thought policy designs. It’s best to let events follow their natural course towards reconciliation. The Afghans – government, Taliban, people – are weary of war. They must lead the process that brings it to an end once and for all.