Why might the Istanbul summit be Afghanistan’s last chance?


Tim Willacy Wilsey, Former Senior Member, UK FOreign and Commonwealth

Encryption brief experienceR Tim Willacy Wilsey He served for more than 27 years in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He is now a visiting professor of war studies at Kings College, London. He spent much of his career in Asia including his work in Pakistan in the mid-1990s. For many years, Tim has focused on South Asia and Northeast Asia in addition to issues of terrorism, organized crime, insurgency and conflict resolution. It was awarded CMG in 2007. A previous version of this article was published by Gateway House, the Indian Council of Global Relations.

The Taliban should have been reintegrated into Afghan society several years ago. It may now be too late to convince them to accept anything less than a dominant role in Kabul. However, Turkey, Pakistan, and the United States may have a last chance to pressure the foes to reach a negotiated settlement.

The Istanbul summit Hangs in the balance. It is postponed until after the month of Ramadan, which ends on or around the 12thThe tenth May. This will allow more time to convince the Taliban to attend. Their presence is necessary because the summit may represent last chance To reach an Afghan settlement before NATO forces leave before 11The tenth September.

There has been some criticism from academics in recent years that the Taliban have not targeted celebrities Bonn conference In December 2001, but that is all the more so. There is no way the United States could accept its presence in Bonn only a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks that the Taliban (as the host of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan) should have prevented.

However, the Taliban had to be reconciled with the Kabul government sometime between late 2001 and the summer of 2006 when Phase 3 plan It was implemented in southern Afghanistan, where NATO countries opened “Regional Reconstruction Teams” in Kandahar Province (Canadian), Helmand (British), Uruzgan (Dutch) and Zabul (Americans). This was the disastrous moment when the Taliban insurgent movement found that their provinces had been “seized” by Western forces and aid workers. This also happened when NATO, with its mission to weaken the base, suddenly found itself fighting the wrong enemy. Despite medieval brutality, the Taliban were not international jihadists. They are extremist Afghan tribesmen with legal standing in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

So the main objective of the Istanbul summit should be to decide how to reintegrate the Taliban into Afghan civil society. But the Taliban want more than this. They want to return to power in Kabul, a role for which they are clearly not yet ready. Instead, the goal should somehow be to integrate them into government while keeping them out of Kabul until there is enough confidence that they will not attempt to seize power and scold the population as they did between 1996 and 2001. One option is to allow them to govern as a conservative in the south. Helmand would be the ideal choice given the Taliban’s success in strangling the opium industry there in the late 1990s. Nevertheless, they are likely to accept less of the Kandahar, which they see as their capital.

Even as part of a slide toward a government share in (say) five years, the Taliban will not accept such a proposal. This is where Turkey and Pakistan play such a crucial role. In between, Turkish President Erdogan and Pakistani General Bajwa have the credibility (Erdogan) and the authority (Bajwa) to compel the Taliban to enter into this kind of negotiation. This is somewhat reminiscent of how Samora Machel from Mozambique insisted that Robert Mugabe and his ZANLA fighters (who operated from Mozambican territory) should enter the Lancaster House negotiations over the future of Rhodesia / Zimbabwe. Mugabe was unhappy, but he had no alternative. In Zimbabwe, the guerrilla forces were eventually merged with the former Rhodesian army, which would be an ideal outcome in Afghanistan.

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Bajwa would be reluctant to spend so much political capital to put such pressure on the Taliban, and this is where the United States would have a major role to play. Pakistan is reluctant to become totally dependent on China and some in the military leadership realize that it is impossible to control the Taliban who are not bound in power in Kabul. As Pashtuns, they may also have common cause with disaffected Pashtuns within Pakistan. A carefully crafted set of political and economic measures by the United States could bring Pakistan a round at a time when it has already begun to show some hesitant diplomatic flexibility with India, mediated by the United Arab Emirates.

All other Istanbul attendees want to see a peaceful Afghanistan and may be expected to support such a plan. China has some commercial interests in the country, but above all, it wants to ensure that Uyghur fighters cannot use it for training and asylum. Russia and the Central Asian republics are concerned about the drug trade and the Taliban’s contacts with the Islamists. Iran wants to ensure that the Hazara Shiite minority is protected from persecution. India will be the least willing to see the Taliban play any role in Afghanistan’s future, but it will realize that President Ghani’s government may not last long unless the Taliban adhere to an agreement. Few of these countries so far have any desire to help the United States out of its predicament, but after the American withdrawal, they face a new and more dangerous situation.

It will take some deft diplomacy to reach a final settlement in Afghanistan and it will take the commitment of China, Russia, and Iran to it at a time when relations with the United States are seriously strained. Moreover, some states will need to act as guardians of the agreement, possibly under the auspices of the United Nations, to ensure that the Taliban or the Kabul government do not deny the terms. Ideally there would be a force of peacekeepers from Muslim-majority countries. Agreement and gathering will not be an easy task.

The suggestion appears that the United States may present its departure to July as one measure to entice the Taliban to attend. The second is the hasty search for a regional partner willing to host an American counter-terrorism capacity for the sake of continuing operations inside Afghanistan. Armed drones, ground attack aircraft, and special forces can still be deployed against Al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists, while strengthening the Afghan government’s defenses against the Taliban.

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US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken Talk to the Five Central Asian Republics (known as C5) and to India. Without tacit Russian consent, C5 might be hesitant. As for Pakistan, the US base will be sensitive domestically. India is far too far to pose a sufficiently sustainable threat to the Taliban. Airpower launched from an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea or the Persian Gulf would be a less than ideal retreat option.

So the odds are against success and some major countries (notably India, Pakistan and Turkey) are experiencing a resurgence of COVID-19. It will take a great effort on the part of the United States and its allies to salvage success from the Afghan impasse.

Crypto Brief Expert Tim Willacy Wilsey He served for more than 27 years in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of any organization.

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