By Shadi Khan Saif
At a crucial juncture in the shaky Afghan peace process, the Taliban are threatening to stall all talks and negotiations with the U.S. over “unlawful” pressures and maneuvering.
Officials and analysts in the Afghan capital Kabul believe the raging conflict has rapidly evolved into a messy squabble in which a rare agreement over negotiated settlement has been reached except for the settlement over who should talk to whom.
In a statement issued this Tuesday, the Taliban accused the U.S. of “unilaterally adding new subjects to the previous agenda of withdrawal of foreign troops and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries reportedly agreed upon at the Doha meeting of November 2018.” The Taliban claimed the U.S. was seeking to pursue “colonial military objectives in the guise of peace and exerting unlawful pressure by enticing other countries.”
The Taliban, in principle, have been claiming to still be the legitimate government of Afghanistan deposed by the U.S. invasion in 2001, hence firmly avoiding accepting the legitimacy of the current regime in Kabul under President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist.
'Change of heart'
This phrase clearly refers to a recent change of heart (at least publicly) in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which were the only countries that officially recognized the Taliban regime in Kabul (1996-2001). There have been repeated and louder calls from Islamabad, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi on the Taliban to acknowledge and talk to the Afghan government.
“How and where to solve it [the conflict] is our sole right. This issue can neither be solved through pressure or tactical maneuvering of anyone nor is it acceptable for anyone to use the issue of Afghanistan to strengthen ties or further their own interests,” the Taliban statement said, accusing the U.S. of not being sincere about pursuing peace.
The warning coincided with the visit to Kabul by Washington’s top peace broker, Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the U.S. goal is to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage the parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement in which every Afghan citizen enjoys equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law.
Last year, Khalilzad met the Taliban representatives in the UAE, but the rebels continued to firmly avoid meeting Afghan officials.
Following in the footsteps of Khalilzad, the Afghan national security adviser, Hamdullah Muhib, and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi shuttled between regional capitals in recent weeks to do lobbying.
Syed Ehsan Tahiri, spokesman for the state’s High Peace Council, told Anadolu Agency the recent stance by Pakistani officials is encouraging. “We welcome the Pakistani government’s announcement of efforts to encourage the Taliban to sit down for peace talks with the Afghan government,” he said.
Price for cozying up with Iran
In this connection, the Taliban, in their self-styled diplomacy, have also met representatives of a number of countries over the past couple of weeks in various locations, including Tehran.
Political commentator and columnist Mohammad Iqbal told Anadolu Agency the Taliban are now paying the price with isolation for cozying up with the Iranians.
“The Arabs certainly did not like that [seeking Iran’s assistance in Afghanistan], and have also lured Pakistan through financial assistance to use its leverage to compel the Taliban to compromise the longstanding notion of being the legitimate representatives of the Afghan people,” he said.
The analyst argued the Taliban felt the heat of isolation and pressure before issuing their latest statement.
The UAE and Pakistan have formalized a $6.2 billion aid package. The red carpet last week was rolled out for Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the United Arab Emirates armed forces. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan received the crown prince at Noor Khan Airbase and personally drove him to the prime minister’s house.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is set to visit Pakistan in February for the unveiling of a $10 billion oil refinery in Pakistan's deep-water port of Gwadar.
These investments are pivotal for the cash-starved ailing economy of Pakistan, a country with known leverage over the Taliban.
Earlier this month, Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, visited Kabul to report to President Ghani about a recent meeting between the Iranian authorities in Tehran. According to Ghani’s office, Araghchi gave reassurances of his country's commitment to the principle of the leadership and ownership of the peace process by the Afghan government.
The Taliban had already confirmed their representatives had visited Tehran on issues around peace and security in Afghanistan. “The delegation visited Tehran to share the Taliban’s views on ‘post-occupation’ scenarios and establishing peace and security in Afghanistan and the region with Iranian officials,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement on Jan. 1.
The raging Afghan conflict is in its bloody 18th year, with thousands of lives lost and millions forced to flee their homes.
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