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Talks: deadlock, pre-conditions, no progress – so what’s new…?

April 3, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Summary: Karzai’s ability to influence dialogue with the Taliban appears to remain minimal, while the Afghan government accuses Pakistan of manipulating pre-conditions.

Persian Gulf - popular with anti-Taliban and pro-Taliban Afghans...

Persian Gulf – popular with anti-Taliban and pro-Taliban Afghans…

There is some feedback here from The Guardian regarding Karzai’s visit to Qatar, apparently on some type of mission to kick-start some form of dialogue with some kind of Taliban.

“The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who visited Qatar this weekend but did not meet any of the Taliban based there…notably absent from the two-day trip was any meeting with some of the Qatar-based Taliban themselves, who have denounced Karzai as the head of a “stooge administration”. “Nobody from the Taliban side met with Karzai,” the spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said bluntly after the visit, which also included a trip to an art museum to see an exhibition of Afghan handicrafts…”

Analysis and Outlook

In essence, not much appears to have happened – although we should perhaps allow for the idea that behind the scenes talks/progress may have taken place and remain “behind the scenes”.  But I am not particularly confident about this as an interpretation.

The story points also to the ups and downs (mostly down) in Afghan/Pakistani relations, with the Afghan government criticising apparent pre-conditions set by the Pakistani government:

The Guardian: “Unfortunately Pakistan today is changing the goalposts on its support for the peace process once again,” said the Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, Janan Mosazai. “Pakistan somehow decided now to put down certain preconditions for its support for the peace process which are completely unacceptable to Afghanistan and to any other independent country.”

Is it fair to be critical of Karzai?  He should probably be making these sort of efforts to get the process moving and he should be recognised, for all his flaws, as the key representative of a sovereign nation.  If we all expect results in six months we are going to be disappointed – the long game is where the most lasting results are to be found. Karzai in Qatar, Apr 2013

The Taliban are making much of their lack of interest in talking to Karzai, although I would suggest that links and talks of some sort are likely to be in place.  However, with so many different groups to talk to, this public rejection of Karzai is a strong signal of the “puppet” status the Taliban continue to project about the current Afghan regime and, from a Taliban perspective, worth making.  I still feel that other groups – the US, Afghan political factions, et al – encourage this perception of a weak Afghan government by engaging (or trying to engage) in their own talks with the Taliban.

I was asked about the potential role of pre-conditions in the dialogue prospects.  As with all aspects of the “talks” debate, it is difficult to get a sense of what pre-conditions are in place from what source in any given week.

Now, the Afghan government accuses Pakistan of demanding:

  • ties with India be severed,
  • army officers be sent to Pakistan for training
  • a strategic partnership deal be signed immediately

I expect Pakistan to deny these charges or claim that there has been a misunderstanding.

And it is possible that pre-conditions can actually serve as confidence building measures – prisoner release, establishing neutral “offices”, etc.  But more hard line demands certainly have the potential to delay, or even derail.  And pre-conditions can come and go – or rise and fall, with the quality of overall Af/Pak relations and many other factors.  This can blow complicating clouds of smoke over everything.  All part of the game, of course.

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