Afghans Talk Politics In France

Chantilly retains an elegant charm of a bygone French aristocratic era town. The place is situated at an hour’s drive from the heart of the French capital, and I have vivid memories of strolling in its cobbled alleys and well kept forest paths with colleagues and friends. Today, the town in French Picardie is in news for hosting the intra-Afghan dialogues, especially for providing the talk-venue between the Afghan administration and the Taliban spokesmen. Chantilly parlays are the result of a flurry of informal contacts between the Afghan government and insurgent representatives that have spanned over the preceding six months. The fact that this Afghan meeting is taking place in less than a week after France brought back the last of its combat troops from Afghanistan underscores tacit yet firm French diplomatic facilitation for the talks.

But why the talks are wrapped in an extraordinary caution? the story by Time magazine provides some plausible explanations, “One of the main reasons that the talks are unfolding so far from Afghanistan in the first place is to shield participants from harsh stares — and violent passions — of militants back on the ground. One impediment to organizing exploratory exchanges between Afghan opponents thus far has been the risk of leaders being seen meeting with enemies by their own partisans — who’d swiftly denounce them as betrayers and sellouts. The remote and obscured conference rooms of Chantilly would presumably prevent any potentially provocative visuals from reaching the rank and file back in Afghanistan, and provide the room and calm for rivals to start sounding one another out about finding potential areas of common interest.” Then there is an another side to the coin as the Time magazine story goes, “By the same public relations formula, Western powers participating in the NATO operation can ill afford to be seen sitting down with the same groups responsible for deadly violence that has killed countless foreign forces and Afghan civilians since 2011 — often through terrorist attacks. Though most government and independent analysts argue that any stable post-NATO Afghan arrangement would require the cooperation and participation of all the nation’s enemy forces, the notion of directly dealing with groups like the Taliban or Hezb-e-Islami still remains politically risky — and possibly explosive.”

In Pakistan, it appears that there was an initial reluctance in letting the Afghans talk among themselves outside Afghanistan-Pakistan. Pakistani foreign minister, who is considered as taking her script from country’s security establishment, was not convinced in the beginning. She was earlier mentioned as clearly saying that the peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan authorities should be held in Kabul and not on foreign soil. However, a rethink in Islamabad is discernible. First, there are measured steps taken towards releasing the key Taliban figures from the Pakistani prisons, ostensibly to facilitate the nascent dialogue. Second, and in a related fashion, Chairman of the Pakistani Senate’s Standing Committee on Defense and Defense Production, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed has hailed the Chantilly talks between representatives of the Taliban and Afghan government, by terming them as a welcome step, which in the senator’s words “presents psychological and political breakthrough for finding a lasting peace.” Senator Mushahid is considered close to the military establishment of Rawalpindi.

The recent rethink in the Pakistani military over the Afghan question is not negligible. Pakistani army generals would not intend to pitch the Afghan Taliban against any residual bastions of the US military in post-2014 Afghanistan. The contrary and undesirable scenario brings the US & Pakistan on collision course, in a military sense. Pakistani military commanders also estimate that the Afghan Taliban alone could not control and administer the post-2014 Afghanistan. Thus, there  is a need for Afghan Taliban’s reconciliation with not only the US but also with other important political players of Afghanistan. Finally, the Pakistani military has the increasing awareness and need for disentangling the Afghan Taliban with the Pakistani Taliban. How much progress would be made in this direction? Only the coming months would indicate. Still, there is less doubt now that the Pakistani army chief has made Afghan peace his top priority. On the other side, for salvaging the US strategy in Afghanistan, the last few chances, which are closely related to the Pakistani rethink, are devised neatly by the veteran foreign affairs commentator Jonathan Power. His analysis is here.

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