D. Suba Chandran
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore
The Quadrilateral Contact Group (QCG) involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China met during the second week of October 2017 in Muscat. In 2016, ever since its inception in January 2016, it had five meetings. It came to in end in May 2016 with the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in a drone attack.
The drone attack that took place in Balochistan with Mansour carrying a Pakistani passport raised many questions in US-Pakistan and Pakistan-Taliban relations, ultimately leading to the demise of the QCG in 2017.
The second season of the QCG has just begun. There seem to be five myths associated with the QCG, leading to the belief it would succeed. Will it be able to achieve a breakthrough? Will it bring the Taliban to the peace table? And why is Pakistan extremely keen on the QCG?
Myth 1: The Search for Good Taliban and the belief that the Taliban will come to the Peace Table
The QCG will not succeed unless the Taliban comes to the negotiating table. And the Taliban wont. It is a simple equation, which the US does not seem to understand. This failure to understand stems from a belief that there is a “Good Taliban” and it is only a matter of time before the Taliban gets divided and a section joins the mainstream.
Since 2001, this search for the Good Taliban has been futile. The latest twin attacks in Gardez (Paktia province) and Andar (Ghazni province) in Afghanistan a day after the QCG meeting in Muscat would reveal where the Taliban stands on the peace process. More than 45 police officers and 20 civilians were killed in these two attacks.
There is no good Taliban. And they will not come to a negotiating table. They would rather wait out, tire the American forces hoping to take over. Reports of the Taliban resurgence, even those prepared in the US and the testimonies given to the Congress would underline the ground situation. Will Taliban want a political deal, if they believe they are winning the war on the ground? Even if they do, what can the QCG offer in return?
Myth 2: Pakistan will succeed in bringing the Taliban to the table
The second myth that Pakistan has been perpetuating is its ability to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Give us some more time, we will get this done, seems to be the Pakistani mantra at the QCG.
Pakistan may have provided sanctuaries to the Taliban. And the political support since inception. But the latter is not former’s puppet. Perhaps, Pakistan has a greater influence on the Huqqani network, but not with the Afghan Taliban. With the Afghan Taliban, there has always been a fissure with those who handle it in Pakistan Establishment. There were serious redlines for both. When Pakistan wanted the Afghan Taliban to give up Osama bin Laden, due to American pressure, Taliban refused. When Taliban wanted to have an independent channel of dialogue outside few years ago, Pakistan scuttled it. The collapse of the Doha process with Taliban was primarily because of Pakistan’s reluctance.
There are reports suggesting that the Afghan Taliban is unhappy with Pakistan for colluding with the Americans, leading to the killing of their leader Mansour in a drone attack in Balochistan. Taliban does not trust Pakistan completely.
Myth 3: The QCG will succeed with China inside, but Russia outside
Russia’s new position, if it is to be true, will complicate the balance in Afghanistan and the QCG. Reports from Pakistan suggest that Russia is supporting the Afghan Taliban. The presumed rationale, according to a news report from Pakistan - is a strong Taliban would negate the space for the ISIS in Afghanistan, as the latter is a bigger threat to Russia.
The above cannot be a reason for Russia to support at this juncture. Perhaps, the larger US-Russia relations and the American position in Syria and Iraq is forcing Russia to react in Afghanistan.
If the Pakistani stories suggesting a “Moscow Shura” is true, then what can the QCG accomplish? Shouldn’t Russia be in, instead of China, for the former knows more about Afghanistan, its politics and actors? Even Afghanistan be willing to get Russia in. Are the US and Pakistan willing to provide a role for Russia within the QCG?
Myth 4: Pakistan and Afghanistan ready for peace
Certainly not. Both Kabul and Islamabad have their own roadmaps, contradicting each other. It is Af vs Pak, than Af-Pak. There is no indication that there has been a paradigm shift within Pakistan suggesting a different approach towards Afghanistan. If the former wants latter to be its satellite and believes in using its “veritable” arm to control Kabul, there will never be a bilateral peace.
Afghanistan has been constantly exploring alternatives to reduce their dependence on Pakistan. The present political leadership in Kabul, certainly is not looking towards Islamabad.
Myth 5: Afghanistan wants the QCG
Is the government in Kabul keen on the QCG? If not, why would it take part in the QCG?
There is an American pressure on Kabul to talk to Islamabad and Afghan Taliban. Else, the Afghans would certainly want the Americans and Pakistanis outside any internal peace initiatives. The QCG is also a contradiction and makes “Afghan led, Afghan owned” peace process – a rhetoric and laughable. Aren’t the Afghans already laughing inside on the American naivety on the QCG?
The US may consider that the QCG is a facilitating process to achieve the above, but the Afghans do not see it that way. Certainly with Pakistan inside, which they see as a part of the problem and not a solution. Even on China, what value does it bring in reaching out to the Afghan Taliban? The Afghans would prefer Russia and US on a trilateral, facilitating a process with the Taliban than the present QCG.
Why then is Pakistan pushing the QCG?
Simple. To make itself relevant. Especially since Trump making that harsh statement in his Afghan surge speech on Pakistan’s role in the Af-Pak, and inviting India, Islamabad has gone into a panic mode.
The QCG, Pakistan believes would make it as an important pillar for the US in Afghanistan. It provides Islamabad with a leverage vis-à-vis the US, and also vis-à-vis Afghanistan. The QCG provides an opportunity for Pakistan to control and if needed to even sabotage the Afghan peace process.
An edited version of the above commentary was originally published in the Hindu BusinessLine.