Representatives of China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States—members of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG)—met in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Monday, January 11, 2016, for the latest effort to revive the peace talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban. The Taliban were not participants in the meeting. Previous efforts in past years have yielded very few results. The next round of talks are scheduled for Monday, January 18, 2016, in Kabul.

Afghan Peace Talks

For a brief time in mid-2015, it appeared that some progress would be made in restarting the peace talks for the Afghan conflict, but this effort fell apart when the news of the death of Mullah Omar (the leader of the Taliban) was released. This news caused a divide within the Taliban, instigated a fight for Taliban leadership, and cast suspicions on the earnestness of the Pakistan government.

Pakistan seems intent on restarting the talks to get the Taliban to the negotiating table. Whether the efforts by Pakistan are sincere remains to be seen. Observers are wondering if this current attempt by Pakistan is just more ‘information operations’ to present its image in a favorable light to the international community (and ensure continued U.S. aid), or if it is a genuine effort to establish peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s concerns about ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan and its efforts to counter India’s influence in the region are big factors in the likelihood of the Afghan Taliban losing Pakistan’s support.

Map - Afghanistan Pakistan
Afghanistan shares a 2,640 mile border with Pakistan (Map, CIA, 2008)

China has a big interest in establishing stability in Afghanistan and in the overall central- and south-Asian region. China is investing heavily in the economic sector of the region and sees future economic benefit through its ‘Silk Road’ initiatives to develop the trade corridors, some of which run through Afghanistan. China is involved in the Mes Aynak copper mine in Logar province, oil field infrastructure in northern Afghanistan, and in similar economic development ventures across Afghanistan. Many of these development projects will provide economic gains for China, but they will not be successful without secure roads and railroads in Afghanistan. In addition, with its own insurgency problem in Xinjiang province (bordering Afghanistan), China would like to see a lessening of jihadi activity in the region.

Wakhan Corridor China Afghanistan
The Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan (red box) is bordered by Tajikistan in the north, China’s Xinjiang province in the east, and Pakistan in the south. (Illustration derived from CIA map, 2009)

The United States is desperately seeking a way out of its longest war. The 14-year-long fight in Afghanistan by the United States and its NATO and coalition partners is not likely to end soon. Many experts in the counterinsurgency field point to political accommodation as the most common method for resolving a long-term insurgency.

The Taliban controls more territory in Afghanistan now than at any other time since the end of 2001, when the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime. The government of Afghanistan has failed miserably in establishing governance at the sub-national level and many rural areas, where the Taliban have a degree of public support, consider the Kabul regime unfavorably.

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The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have not done well on the battlefield. ‘Ghost soldiers,’ corruption, bad leadership, poor coordination among security pillars, sustainment issues, shortage of aviation assets, an immature intelligence structure, and an inclination for static defense over offensive operations hamper the security efforts of the ANDSF.

The key to peace lies in Islamabad. If the Pakistanis are sincere, they will exert influence on the Afghan Taliban to get them to the negotiation table. If not, then there will be just a lot of talking going on about ‘peace talks,’ and America’s longest war will continue.

(Featured image: AP Photo/Ishtiaq Mahsud)

Reference:

For further information read Joint Release of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group on Afghan Peace and Reconciliation, Embassy of the United States – Kabul, Afghanistan, January 11, 2016.
http://kabul.usembassy.gov/pr-011216.html