India, Iran and Russia should be included in the talks with the Taliban, says former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who said that the current talks among the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) were Afghanistan’s “only hope for peace” despite the fact that the talks were being held in Pakistan.
“We have no other hope for peace. Which is what forces us to accept a condition we are unhappy with (on the venue for talks in Pakistan). Of course, we aren’t happy that these talks aren’t being held in Afghanistan”, Mr. Karzai told The Hindu in an interview in Delhi.
Mr. Karzai’s comments came as there was uncertainty in Islamabad over just when the next round of QCG talks that include representatives from the U.S., China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, would be scheduled. The group had met twice, in February in Islamabad on February 6 and Kabul on February 23, expressing the hope that the direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives would be scheduled in early March, after which the QCG had met.
However, in a statement on Saturday, the Taliban said it would not attend the talks until all the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces had left the country. “We reject all such rumours and unequivocally state that the leader of Islamic emirate has not authorised anyone to participate in this meeting”, the statement reported on by agencies in Kabul said. “(Islamic emirate) once again reiterates that unless the occupation of Afghanistan is ended, blacklists eliminated and innocent prisoners freed, such futile misleading negotiations will not bear any results”.
The statement has led to more unhappiness in Kabul over the progress in the talks, and particularly in Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the talks table, which now seem unlikely until April, Afghan officials told The Hindu .
Added to that, there has been no let-up in violence by the Taliban, that are suspected to have carried out twin suicide bombings in Kabul and Kunar province on February 27th, and no agreement from the Taliban leadership to travel to Kabul for the talks, something the government has been keen on.
“None of these (decrease in violence, and direct talks) have happened so far, and there has been no real talks between Afghans themselves. If this were an internal problem then we, the Afghans should be talking. If there are other powers talking then clearly the problem comes from external factors. We welcome the current process, but we want it to be inclusive, result oriented and should lead to an Afghan to Afghan talks, not a foreign process,” Mr. Karzai said to The Hindu, adding that Pakistan held the key to bringing the Taliban on board.
Officials suggest that Mr. Karzai’s voice, like that of many others in Kabul indicates the growing disquiet over the lack of results in talks with the Taliban so far, and the worst violence seen yet in 2015. According to a UN (UNAMA) report released in February, more than 3,500 people had been killed in violence, mainly between security forces and the Taliban, casualties in which one in four was a child.
In a rare admission this week, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz said what was well-known, but what the Pakistan government has denied thus far: that the Taliban’s leadership and their families now live in Pakistan. Speaking at the Council for Foreign Relations, Mr. Aziz said, "I think people who have dealt with this issue recognize that Taliban in the best of times … did not listen to Pakistan always…and now we have some influence on them because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities, their families are here. So we can use those levers to pressurize them to say 'come to the table.'."
Ghani’s game plan Afghan analysts have also been worried that the presence of the U.S. and China in the QCG would push President Ghani to accept more and more concessions toward the Taliban, even though they have been unable to bring enough pressure to bear on Pakistan to use those “levers”. “We believe China has an influence on Pakistan, and we hope it will exercise that influence to bring peace in Afghanistan”, Mr. Karzai said, adding, “Let’s look at it this way… this quadrilateral dialogue implies that the problem for Afghanistan is external, then there are other external players as well who are important. Iran is the first, then India and Russia. They are all friends and neighbours, so I hope the talks would include them too”.
India has stayed disengaged from the process, saying that it would support any initiative that is “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led”. However officials say that while they are regularly briefed by US officials on the state of the talks, there is no proposal to broaden the scope of the QCG talks to admit any more international players.