The opening of the Taliban's Office in Qatar on June 18 gave a historical power boost to the militant group which has yet to renounce its known ties to al Qaeda. It also provided them a new kind of recognition in the international arena. To the dismay of many Afghans, the flying of the infamous white flag of the Taliban and the plaque carrying the militant group's Islamic Emirate name told Afghans that the international community wanted to give them a diplomatic reality and a military victory. The only positive outcome, if there is one, is that there is an address for the Taliban to start peace talks. This was something the Afghan government had worked for years to achieve through its High Peace Council.
The opening ceremony of the Taliban's office was not what the Afghan government and people had expected. In fact, it was contrary to the careful policy agreements and diplomatic exchanges which had been worked in details between President Karzai, the United States and other relevant parties, including efforts by the Qatari government.
Every party involved in the peace talks hopes to achieve something that serves their interests. The issue is that there is a wide gap between the interests of the parties which have led to more fears than hopes for the future of Afghanistan. This is because the Taliban's office was opened with Pakistan being the primary selectors of the individuals representing the militants. The United States appears hell-bent to leave Afghanistan without thinking carefully through the consequences of its rushed and short term decisions. Whether out of desperation or lack of strategic insight, the United States hopes to wrap up their involvements in Afghanistan primarily because of political pressures at home and to reduce the costs to its economy. For Pakistan, it's a win-win situation because it is finally achieving its goal of allowing both international recognition to its favorite Taliban proxies and proving that it remains an important player and sidelining the Afghan government as an irrelevant player in solving the Afghan conflict. And for Afghan government, the opening of the Taliban's office neither promised an end to violence nor any acknowledgment by the militants of the new realities of the Afghan society. In fact, the militants did not even remotely accept anything of the Afghan constitution or indicated any willingness to talk to the Afghan government directly. The perceptions of Afghans in terms of what other players like the United States and Pakistani want to achieve can be summarized as following:
As seen by Afghan officials in terms of what the United States hopes to achieve, they think that the main goal for the Americans is to wrest control of the Taliban away from its international allies like al Qaeda and Haqqani network and establish some sort of relationship to exchange prisoners. They also aim to contain future threats and potential attacks through diplomatic engagement. They also hope to achieve a comfortable exit of U.S. troops from the country in appeasing the Taliban and Pakistan to allow access to land routes and pressure the Taliban not to attack U.S. troops.
As for the Afghan government, Afghans believe that the talks are aimed to achieve three main goals. First, to launch direct negotiations with Taliban that will influence them to turn into a political movement. Second, curb violence and sustain enduring peace. Finally, to remove the Pakistani influence from the Taliban so that those members of the militant group who are Afghans do not turn into future proxies of Pakistan and be used as a policy tool. The Afghan government also hopes to remove the Taliban as a military threat for the long run, taking the fight on international terrorism directly.
Pakistan also has three main goals that it hopes to achieve through the opening of the Taliban's office in Qatar. First, to show the world that Taliban are an indigenous movement so the claims that Taliban are a proxy of Pakistan will be discredited. Second, to control the strategic lines of communications between the Taliban leadership in Pakistan and their representatives in Qatar. And finally, to be the final sealer of any peace deal in Afghanistan so it can prop up a future government in the country where the Taliban will continue to serve the long term Pakistani wishes and long term strategic goals in relation to its rivalry with India as well as economic relations with the Central Asian countries. But challenge for Pakistan is bigger than other parties. In pursuit of its ill-thought goals of supremacy against India, Pakistan has created a radicalized monster which it no longer is able to fully control. There are already strong telltales of this ugly reality in the form of the Pakistani Taliban who is increasingly attacking the very foundations of security institutions in the country. The fact that now the Taliban in Afghanistan, with the help from Pakistani security establishments, believe they have succeeded forcing the United States through sheer terror and brutality out of Afghanistan, they would not stop at believing that they would, with their brethren from across the border, take on Pakistan's nuclear facilities and creating an al Qaeda version of a nuclear-armed Caliphate.
As for the Taliban, in the short run they hope to reach out to the Arab Gulf States to advance their relations and garner more recognition as a natural ally. They also hope to secure the release of their prisoners from Guantanamo bay and present themselves as a legitimate and alternative to the Afghan government. In the long run, they hope to kill their way back to power in Afghanistan and help create the same state which gave rise to a safe home to al Qaeda and other extremists from around the world. And there are no indications that the Taliban would be any kinder or gentler when it comes to women's rights. It may be a notion that Pakistan promotes that legitimizing the Taliban would soften their stance and moderate their world view. The United States is also beginning to fall for this unproven theory. The fact remains that this is a pure fantasy since the militant group had more legitimacy during their rule in the 1990s but failed either prevent terror groups from nesting and nourishing in Afghanistan nor changed any of its hardline policies in regards to women's rights or moderating their stance in terms of supporting terror groups around the world.
The office also divides Taliban amongst themselves as well. Recent intelligence reports suggest that there is dismay and doubts about the representatives Taliban in Qatar office. Mula Qayoum Zakir and Mula Akhter Mohammad Mansoor head of the Quitta Shura, the two most influential and notorious Taliban commanders from Southern Afghanistan feel that they are not represented in the Qatar office. That is the main cause why the office is currently idled by the Taliban themselves and some are recalled to Pakistan to get their strategic directive and also discuss the concerns of the two commanders and get their directions too.
As for Afghan citizens, especially those who group up in the last two decades, and who make up the majority of the population, the opening of the Taliban office and their statements dashed any hopes for a progressive and terror-free Afghanistan. For this generation of young Afghans, it is not acceptable to see their government talking to a group who are responsible for poising school girls, attacking hospitals, killing school teachers and abandoning women from work and be seen outside their houses. This generation has been witness to Afghanistan journey from a pariah state to the path of a new country. Afghanistan has embarked on an incredible journey from a draconian land to a democratic state, plural society and a home of all ethnic groups, a place where men and women are treated equally, there is freedom of speech there are democratic institutions who are using world class policies for protecting and promoting human rights. Although at the backdrop of a war against al Qaeda and insurgency Afghans had a chance to breathe and enjoy freedom and relative peace in the past 12 years, at least in the big cities which now house the majority of the population. These points all indicate that our society has transformed dramatically and is moving forward despite all pressures and counter-terrorism efforts by Afghan forces and our allies.
Sustainability of the Republic: We ought to face the question by politicians and international diplomats whether or not the current system of governing in Afghanistan is sustainable? There are five reasons as to why the current government and system will endure. 1. Its elected by the people of Afghanistan through an election, 2. It's accepted by all ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan and has the support and will of citizens, 3. It is recognized and supported by a vast majority of global community, 4. There is sufficient funds committed that can sustain and develop the country, 5. We have a strong, capable and national security forces.
The most dangerous disadvantage for the Afghan government keeping the Qatar office open will be the Taliban managing to reach out to the western and gulf countries and giving them the sense that without them there will be no peace in Afghanistan.
Within 30 million Afghan citizens the opinion polls show that more than 90 percent of Afghans support the system if not the government and think that Afghanistan is better off with being an Islamic Republic, not an emirate. The Taliban are an external force with foot soldiers contracted by Pakistan to advance their policy through violence and aiming to topple the Afghan government. The Taliban has below 5 percent support within Afghanistan but they have a unlimited support from Pakistani government and that is the means for their survival and sustainment. Strategically they play the role of spoilers so that Pakistan can utilize that for its regional and extremist ideas be it against India, U.S. or others.
But the strategic asset of Pakistan is a militant group that cannot deliver everything and with growth of capability of Afghan forces, Taliban are no longer able to deliver Pakistan a toppled Republic of Afghanistan, therefore Pakistan now increasingly relys on other means like diplomacy and direct confrontation with Afghanistan at our borders, but given the fact that Pakistan has lost the battle for strategic narrative these are some desperate reactions that show their failure of leadership and failure of policies.