Why is everyone cosying up to the Taliban?

Why is everyone cosying up to the Taliban?

In late December 2018, Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN’s special representative for Afghanistan, gave a briefing to the UN Security Council on the recent development in the war-torn country. Despite the overall grim nature of the disquisition, which involved increasing civilian casualties and a troubled parliamentary election, Yamamoto did note, with some optimism: “The possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict has never been more real in the past 17 years than it is now.” 

Yamamoto was referring to the many attempts made over the last year, by various stakeholders in the Afghan conflict, to bring the Taliban insurgency to the negotiating table, some of which have resulted in more tangible success than others. Among the many ‘firsts’, was a three-day long ceasefire with the Taliban during the Islamic festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, initiated by the Afghan government. This was followed by the appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan, tasked with negotiating peace with the Taliban.

While Khalilzad has already conducted several promising meetings with Taliban leadership, there are other parties involved who have taken their own steps to facilitate a dialogue between the warring groups, the Afghan government and the Taliban. These efforts included a meeting in November in Moscow held by the Russian government, another conference hosted in UAE in December over a period of three days, and most recently talks in Iran, held on Monday. Notably, though, the Taliban has been reluctant to talk directly with the Afghan government, who they often refer to as a ‘puppet regime’, prompting an increased interest from regional stakeholders to invest in ‘brokering’ what is seen as a possible historical end to the longest war.

However, not everyone invested in peace in Afghanistan has noble reasons; that there is a vested interest for all parties involved has been evident to Afghan leaders as well as political analysts for a while now. “There is strong suspicion in the region that the United States desires permanent military bases in South Asia,” explained Graeme Smith, a consultant for the International Crisis Group, who has keenly observed the development of the Afghan conflict for several decades. However, a lingering troop presence is unacceptable to Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China.

“That makes a potential US drawdown a reason for cautious optimism, as the neighbours may be less inclined to disrupt US peace talks — and might actually lend a hand — if they believe that Washington will eventually give up its strategic foothold on their doorstep,” Smith said.

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