The recent attacks in Afghanistan singly points to the faulty nature of the peace process in the war torn country. Since 2007 more than 11,800 people lost their lives, and the cost in terms of instability and underdevelopment are unaccounted. The peace process is faulty mainly owing to three factors: the tactic to wedge a divide between moderate and radical Taliban; the strategy that pay for peace can really work in the war torn region; and the calculation that regional dynamics will gradually play a positive role in the peace process. All these tactics as well policies have not worked effectively; if at all they have worked they have worked just as ad hoc mechanisms to halt the return the Taliban. Rather have prolonged uncertainty for the future of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has never shed its radical agenda since the very beginning of its formation in 1990s. Its religious reformist agenda drew it close to the people, but its radical political agenda brought nothing positive but death and destruction. Examples galore: whether destruction of Bamiyan Buddha, or the killing of High Peace Council leader Burhanuddin Rabbani last year, or its delineation of an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan last year, its radical agenda is visible. Hence, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the Taliban ‘Talibjan’ (combination of Talib meaning student or seeker and jan meaning darling) in July 2010 as a prelude to entice the radical organization to peace process, it was faulty in its very conception. The Taliban and its sister network the Haqqani have time and again reiterated their radical agenda and claimed the violent activities committed by its cadres. The attacks in Heart, Helmand and Kabul on 15 April 2012, which killed about 15 people, were claimed by the Taliban. The Taliban declared that the attacks were orchestrated to give ‘a message to those foreign commanders who claim that the Taliban lost momentum.’ The differentiation of moderate Taliban and radical Taliban has not actually worked on ground despite repeated efforts at London Conference and Kabul Conference, held in 2010. Despite the involvement of the United Nations in the Afghanistan crisis and meeting of its officials with Taliban in Qatar (where the Taliban was made to open its peace office), the Taliban has never shied away from using violence as a tool to further its agenda. As the statements by the organizations depict, the Taliban organization does not seem to be interested as a party among other parties to resolve the Afghan crisis, but is rather interested to emerge as the major player or rather the sole arbiter of the destiny of Afghan people and society.
Another interesting feature that must be taken into account into the rise of the Taliban as a formidable force is its Pashtun character. The organization claims to represent the majority of population in the country, i.e. the Pashtuns. Its devious role in the 1990s, particularly the merciless killing of ethnic minorities particularly Hazaras (the notorious case of Mazar-e-Sharif would suffice here, where the Taliban killed about 25000 Hazaras) is well documented. Hence, this identification of Pashtun interest with the Taliban interest must be decoupled and worked upon for any peace process to actually succeed. It is undoubtedly a complicated task, keeping in view religious radicalization of Afghanistan society since the past few decades, and also the inefficiency of the Karzai (a Pashtun himself) administration to craft a framework in which interests of Pashtuns as well as non-Pashtuns can be represented. The administration is well known for cases of corruption and criminalization and poor governance, and this crisis of legitimacy provides another creeping space to Taliban to thrive in Afghanistan.
Another motive can also be attributed to the violence committed by the Taliban recently. The well known terrorist psychology is to keep the issue alive and in full public glare. There is an apprehension in the Taliban circle that if the organization gives up its radical agenda and dawn the garb of peacenik, then its bargaining position may shrink substantially. There is no such convincing agreement or guarantee, at least from the Taliban point of view, that after the international forces led by the NATO withdraw, it will be given a level playing field in the Afghan politics. The Taliban suspects Karzai and his intentions, and its top leadership including Mullah Omar is more interested to return to power solo than taking part in any power sharing arrangement. The good equations of the organization and its affiliates like the Haqqani with the sections in the Pakistani establishment further give credence to such an argument. It is an undeniable fact that Pakistan evinces keen interest in the Taliban, and it was one of the regional powers which had recognized the Taliban regime in the 1990s. Hence, it is more the Taliban calculations than the calculations of the US forces or the NATO forces that actually impact heavily the course of peace process in Afghanistan.
In this straitened environment it is but natural that the peace process will falter despite efforts to lure the Taliban to the orbit of reintegration. The incentives have not worked in past, and will also likely falter in future. There are enough documents showing huge sums of money were offered to Taliban leaders in the past, they were given very important person treatments, helicopters were used for their conveyance, meetings were arranged between Karzai and their representatives, and also meetings were arranged between US led NATO forces and the Taliban, and also between the UN officials and the representatives of the organization, but nothing have been achieved on the ground. In fact, in the midst of these peace negotiations, when the hopes of sustainable peace were rising high, the Taliban arranged to kill the High Peace Council leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani in September 2011. The organization has adopted a well calibrated strategy to raise its metre of violence, or lower it, according to its plans. The Taliban perhaps is interested to emerge as the most formidable organization in the world as its patron Al Qaeda, particularly after the decimation of its leadership, has been reduced to a rudderless organization, at least for now.
The regional equations too have not aided the peace process. Rather it has contributed to its further complexity. Regional powers fail to develop any common mechanism to work together for peace and development in the region. India and Pakistan have contrasting positions on the issue, and other regional powers like Turkey and Iran too have differences as to how to tackle the situation. While Iran is embroiled in the nuclear politics, Turkey along with have evinced interest in the Syrian crisis. On the next day of the attack, Indian Defence Minister called the armed forces to get prepared for any eventualities. The Pakistani Foreign Minister called for further coordination in tackling the Taliban problem. Karzai blamed it on the ‘intelligence failure for us and especially NATO.’ The regional leaders failed to develop a common agenda to tackle the Taliban. Even there is no joint statement between the regional powers in their joint repudiation of the Taliban and its activities. Here, the national interest, whether real or presumed, trumps over the regional or global interests, and as a result there is no regional mechanism at present to address the crisis in the region.