Negotiations Between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban

Kabul, Afghanistan (NEO) – At the beginning of July 2015, Pakistan hosted a meeting of representatives of the Afghan Government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan, as part of the commitments to support the Afghan peace and reconciliation process headed by Afghanistan. The meeting was held in a historical township of Murree, near Islamabad. China and the US representatives were present at the meeting as observers. 

Unlike the meetings that had taken place earlier, the participants of the first round of the negotiations were vested with authorities (according to the statement of the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan). Islamabad christened them as “groundbreaking.” Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry acted at the meeting in the power of a mediator. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai headed the Afghan delegation that was comprised of the representatives of the High Peace Council, advisers to the Afghan President and the Chief Executive. In other words, all major political groups were represented at the meeting.

The Delegation of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (three persons, whose names had not been disclosed for a long time) was represented by its Qatar office and political Pakistan-based Shura. Some time later, the Pakistani press published information that Maulvi Jalil, Qari Din Muhammad and others were representing the interests of Talibs at the meeting; however, these names were not officially confirmed. The composition of the delegation testified to the Talibs’ aspiration to preserve an interrelation between various groups of militants acting in the territory of Afghanistan as well as beyond the borders of the country.

Thus, Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan was recognized at the negotiations as a political subject.

The parties expressed their intention to bring peace to Afghanistan and the region and acknowledged that it would be necessary to develop confidence-building measures. 

The meeting in Murree was considered (in Afghanistan, Pakistan and by the international community) an important initial step on the path to a political settlement in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. It was regarded as synonymous to a progressive rapprochement of two ideological opponents—Talibs, who had been disputing their beliefs and power in arms from the times the US troops had been brought onto the territory of the country in September 2001 and after the collapse of the regime of Taliban in Afghanistan (1996 – 2001), and the official Kabul administration.

It took months to persuade Talibs to come to the negotiating table. In past years, attempts to arrange such meetings were undertaken. In 2012, the US planned to organize the first round in Qatar, but then president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai declined it. Talibs hung up the Afghani flag above the doors of their office, and Karzai assumed it to be a gesture demonstrating an intent to form a parallel government of Afghanistan—a government in exile. At that time, Islamabad supported Kabul because it assumed that it had also been outflanked even before the scheduled negotiations took place in Doha.

In 2015, the political situation in the region changed. In December 2014, the core contingent of the coalition US/NATO troops was withdrawn from Afghanistan on the account of the completion of the combat mission. Immediately regional players “embarked on” the peace process in Afghanistan. In May of this year talks intermediated by Pakistan were held in Chinese Ürümqi, but at that time Taliban’s Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dissociated himself from the talks, having stated that the Taliban’s Political Commission was the only body authorized to conduct such negotiations.

A month later, an informal meeting took place in Oslo. Although all the mentioned negotiations (in Dubai, China, Norway and other places) were indeed held, they were not officially sanctioned by the leadership of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (according to the statements made by the press services of the Afghan Taliban, which claim to represent Talibs). 
The negotiations in Murree were held amid a number of terrorist attacks (including the one on the building of Parliament in Kabul on June 22, 2015), a Taliban offensive in the southern, eastern and central provinces of Afghanistan and an upsurge of tension in the Pakistani-Afghan relations, triggered by a number of circumstances.

In July, Islamabad showed its dissociation from the meeting held in Murree and emphasized that it was just an organizer of the meeting and that the desire of the parties to come to the negotiating table was unbiased. 

But, leaping ahead, we should point out that Islamabad was the first to reap the fruits of the process. Just hours before the commencement of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), held on July 9, 2015, an item concerning a long-term accession of India and Pakistan to the Organization was put on the agenda, by which the civil-military establishment of Pakistan showed:

– itself as the author of the process of reconciliation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan at whose approval the political basis for the advancement of the Afghan Peace Process was formed, 

– the flexibility and ability to “bring” opposite parties that had been irreconcilable opponents and feudists for thirteen years to the negotiating table,

– the ability to “neutralize” harsh criticism coming from the opposition-minded Kabul, which President of Afghanistan A. Ghani was faced with (here we refer to the President’s strategy aiming at the reconciliation with Pakistan and the agreements between intelligence agencies—the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and the National Directorate of Security (NDS) of Afghanistan, signed by him in May 2015),

–  the ability to “neutralize” the charges of support of terrorists by Islamabad, brought forth by Delhi. In addition, behind the scene of the SCO, Prime Minister of Pakistan Meehan Muhammad Nawaz Sharif handed an official invitation to the 2016 summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, scheduled to take place in Islamabad, to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Mody and managed to receive his consent. It should also be mentioned that relations between the neighboring countries are seriously strained. In 2015, armed clashes were registered along the Kashmire’s cease-fire line and the operating margin.

– the ability to diminish the influence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan on the Pakistan Taliban Movement, fighting against the federal government. 

Diplomacy of Pakistan also succeeded in the organization of the world press and formation of a public opinion in the days when negotiations were held in Murree, which were recognized at the international level and by UN.       

Foreign Ministry of Pakistan repeatedly reminded that it acted exclusively as a mediator in the process, but the very fact that the organization of negotiations between the authorized persons became possible at all testifies to strong and confidential contacts of Islamabad with the leadership of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan and the significance of its influence on the Movement. Bearing in mind that Pakistani military officials play a dominant role in the generation of political decisions related to the Afghan issue, it becomes rather obvious that they will continue to “exploit” Talibs in order to further manage the situation in Afghanistan by implicitly influencing the emergence of the Afghani ruling political elite and assuring its positions in the region satisfies the interests of Islamabad. 

The participants of the negotiations held in Murree had come to an agreement to hold another round after the end of Ramadan, which demonstrates their genuine commitment to the continuation of the process of settlement in the region.

 Image Source: DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist Chad J. McNeeley/Released


Image Source: DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist Chad J. McNeeley/Released

Several days after the conclusion of the negotiations in Murree, Pakistani newspaper The Nation published an article confirming that the leader of Afghan Taliban Mullah Muhammad Omar (the Emir of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, 1996–2001) acknowledged his satisfaction with the Pakistan’s role as a mediator in the process. At the same time, it was emphasized that“it remains obligatory upon us to continue our sacred Jihad to liberate our beloved homeland and restore an Islamic system.”

Natalya Zamaraeva, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Pakistan Institute for Near-East Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.