Even as President Hamid Karzai swore in newly elected members of parliament in Afghanistan after a brief stand off, possibility of talks with the Taliban are looking better, though this will largely remain an up down process. The guerrillas seem to have decided to abandon the Al Qaeda thereby paving way for negotiations and overcoming apprehensions that the United States would have in approving talks with the rebels. This will also enable Saudi Arabia to play an important role as the Al Qaeda is an anathema to Riyadh. However the road would be rocky and none knows it better than President Hamid Karzai.
There is also a process of checks and balances with a newly elected parliament in place on 26 January in Afghanistan, ending a week-long stand-off. Karzai urged the MPs to work together for Afghanistan's future. Opening of parliament ended the political stalemate in the country which had been assuming criticality and pressure from Western states and the UN seemed to have worked as Mr Karzai had earlier delayed inauguration awaiting results by Special Courts adjudicating on some of the election complaints. Yonus Qanooni, Abdul Rasul Sayaf, Abdul Zaher Qadir and Mirwais Yasini are competing for the Speakers post, while Fazl Ahmad Muslimyar has been elected as head of the Afghan Senate. The parliament should provide the necessary supervision over administration and the larger discourse of engaging the Taliban thereby ensuring that any development has stamp of approval by elected representatives of the people.
The developments on working out reconciliation with the Taliban that have been simultaneously going on have been encouraging. The Afghan High Peace Council’s visit to Pakistan and meeting with some of the top leaders in the country including the Army Chief General Pervez Kiyani has paved the way for working out nuances of talks with the Taliban with Islamabad. A Joint Afghanistan Pakistan Commission is being set up to work out modalities for negotiations. The Council members have also met with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami representatives led by Ghairat Baheer who set foreign troop exit as the main precondition for negotiations. The Afghan High Peace Council has also in all probability held talks with some other elements of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Opening of office of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in the capital Kabul on 2 January is another indicator of an outreach towards the Taliban. At the inauguration, Mr Muneer Osman the first Special Envoy of the Secretary General of OIC for Afghanistan stressed OIC's support to the Afghan Government’s peace programmes. OIC has planned an extraordinary summit on Afghanistan in March to focus on efforts to bring peace. The Taliban leadership is likely to be invited as observers to the summit in Saudi Arabia. The OIC has already sent an invitation to the Afghan High Peace Council, led by Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, which indicates that a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict will be on the agenda of the meeting to be presided over by Saudi monarch Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.
The main indication remains of reports that the rebels were willing to divorce the Al Qaeda and were amenable to talks in a third country other than Afghanistan or Pakistan. This will pave the way for Saudis to enter the fray for they would not like to have any truck with Bin Laden whose aim is to overthrow the monarchy in the West Asian state. Saudi Arabia would also feel comfortable with Taliban in some strength in Afghanistan government given that it would be assured of a pro Sunni Islamic regime in Kabul. But there are many spoilers in this scheme including the Al Qaeda and the Pakistani intelligence establishment with some renegade elements having diverse views who can upset the balance.
Meanwhile there has been a steady stream of surrender of terrorists in Afghanistan which is contributing to the overall outgo of militants. While a large number of the Taliban are being eliminated roughly around 5000 in 2010 alone, there is also a necessity of many to join the mainstream as per the reintegration plan drawn up in the Kabul conference in July 2010. The operation of this scheme though well planned has also not shown results so far and a focus on the same would be necessary in the months ahead.
So would reconciliation with the Taliban be a reality. Yes and No. Yes for in the long term that seems to be only way of bringing peace and stability in Kabul and No as in the short term there is unlikely to be any succor for negotiations between rebels on one side having transnational content and an indigenous government which is dependent on so many external players all with their own agenda is always very difficult. But hopefully well begun should be half done.