Murree Talks: Cutting Through the Spin

taliban leaders

Negotiations between Taliban and Afghan government are being heralded as a breakthrough in a war that has lasted since nearly 15 years. The breakthrough is also a moment of shining for Pakistan who has done what many feared was impossible, bringing the Taliban to talks. Along with declining terror attacks, this is the backdrop for Gen Raheel’s gushing statement terming Pakistan as a nation “on the rise“. However, once one cuts through the feel-good spin, the picture becomes a lot less rosy.

For the most part, media has played its role, giving a positive spin and echoing the talking points. Dawn gave a fawning analysis, saying that “were it not for Pakistan’s willingness to use its influence over the Afghan Taliban, the Murree meeting would not have taken place,” and “there truly has not been a better moment for Pakistan to take the diplomatic lead”. Jang is offering carefully qualified headlines such as “Afghan govt, Taliban agree to halt major attacks”, even while the Taliban continue to carry out attacks. (I guess suicide bombings no longer count as ‘major’).

In a breath of fresh air, The Nation is one of the few to deliver objective analysis that looks at the situation through reality, not wishes.

Once more Pakistan has served as the facilitator between the Afghan government and the TTP, with the Foreign Office spokesperson emphasising Pakistan’s commitment to an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process”.

Ironically the process has been anything but Afghan-led. Pakistani military authorities remain in the driving seat of these negotiations; their contacts in the TTP served as the initial couriers, their influence brought the militants to the table and their efforts has kept them there – even this meeting was held in the pristine hills of Murree, a short drive away from the Pakistani capital. Apart from the Afghani president, Ashraf Ghani, and the select few in his government, no one is sincerely interested in negotiating with the Taliban; especially if Pakistan is acting as the linchpin…Perhaps it’s time for the Afghan peace process to be truly ‘Afghan-owned’; the meetings should be held in Bamiyan rather than Nathia Gali.

These are important points, and they are not the only ones that are missing from the majority of carefully media managed reports we are being fed.

It should also be noted that we are hardly a ‘neutral’ broker in these negotiations. Afghanistan does not view Pakistan as friendly or even neutral. Actually, we are viewed as an ally of Taliban, and have been accused of providing support, weapons, and even tactical leadership for Taliban operations. Many believe this is why we have ‘influence’ over the Taliban to bring them to the table, not because we have any threat over them. For that matter, why is the table in Pakistan? Because that’s where Taliban leadership has been coordinating their war from. We’ve been hosting Taliban since long before these talks.

Even this influence may be overstated, though. Maybe our strategic thinkers want the Taliban to feel indebted to us for helping them return to power, but why should they? That may make sense from a realist perspective, but Taliban are not realists, they are ideologues who believe that Allah (SWT) has ordained their victory, not Pakistan. Note that all the celebratory statements are coming from here, while the Taliban remain almost defiantly silent. They don’t sound appreciative, they actually sound unconvinced. And why wouldn’t they? Who wants to negotiate a power sharing arrangement when they believe they’re on the verge of winning?

All of this is important to note because these points will play in important role in the actual outcome of these talks. The powers that be have made a very dangerous gamble that we could manipulate the entire process by playing both sides – supporting the Afghan government while also supporting the Taliban that is carrying out a violent war to overthrow it. What happens if it doesn’t work? What happens to all our newly minted regional influence if it turns out that we can’t broker a peace? Or worse: What happens if Taliban come back to power and then turn their sights Eastward believing that this was only the first step in fulfilling Allah’s (SWT) will that the entire region be subordinated under their so-called Islamic Emirate?

Keeping a positive mindset and hoping for the best is important, but it cannot replace a realistic outlook on things. That is what I am afraid is mostly missing from reports on these talks. We need to be realistic and we need to be honest with ourselves. Otherwise, we could be setting ourselves up for an even bigger failure than we realise.

 

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