Afghan peace efforts back at square one | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 06.05.2016
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Afghan peace efforts back at square one

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said the government will force the Taliban into peace talks by defeating it on the battlefield. But experts say such an approach is only likely to prolong the bloody insurgency.

Admitting that his approach to engaging in peace talks with the Taliban had failed, Ghani recently said his government would, instead, prioritize fighting the Taliban and other terrorist groups.

"You will see how the people who have rejected our call for reconciliation will beg for it once they face defeat on the battlefield," Ghani told the parliament in April, after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that had killed and injured more than 400 people in the capital Kabul.

His comments marked a shift in the government's policy toward the peace process, demonstrating his loss of faith in a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Faiz Mohammad Zaland, a lecturer at Kabul University, believes Ghani has wasted precious time pursuing failed policies. "Ghani's government has failed to deliver, not only in bringing the Taliban to peace talks but also in providing basic services to the people of Afghanistan," the expert said, adding that the president's recent comments were "only a reaction" to the latest deadly attack in Kabul.

He views the president's remarks as an attempt to deflect further public criticism of his government.

"Ghani needed to calm the people down after the Kabul attack and that was the reason he changed his tone toward the Taliban and Pakistan," Zaland said. "Ghani's policies were failing due to his wrong approach to peace talks," he stated referring to the Afghan leader's efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, with Pakistan's help.

Aschraf Ghani Präsident von Afghanistan

'You will see how the people who have rejected our call for reconciliation will beg for it once they face defeat on the battlefield,' said Ghani

Running around in circles

Many Afghans believe Pakistan holds the key to end the ongoing conflict in their country. Islamabad's military-intelligence establishment has traditionally maintained close ties with the Taliban, and Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of providing safe harbor to the militant group's leadership on its territory.

Kabul has also repeatedly asked Pakistan to use its leverage and influence over the Taliban to persuade them to come to the negotiating table.

For many years, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had sought the support of Islamabad in the Afghan peace process but failed to hold any direct talks with the group despite numerous visits to the Pakistani capital.

Karzai had some words of advice for his successor, Ashraf Ghani, during his inauguration ceremony in September 2014, warning that Kabul should be "cautious" when dealing with Pakistan and the United States.

However, Karzai's appeal seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as Ghani, like Karzai, laid all his hopes on his country's southern neighbor. But the Kabul attack changed it.

"Let me clarify this today - we do not expect Pakistan to bring the Taliban to [peace] talks," Ghani said during his address to the Afghan parliament. "However, we expect Pakistanis to keep the promises they made in the four-nation agreement and take action against those who, according to Afghan intelligence, our international allies and Pakistani sources, have bases inside Pakistan," he added.

Experts, however, believe the shift in Ghani's view of Pakistan and the Taliban has come too late, and with a high price.

"Ghani did not learn anything from Karzai and wasted a lot of time on doing the same things as the former president," Afghanistan expert Younus Fakur told DW. "He should have started where Karzai had left and should have had a new and practical approach to the peace process," he added.

No peace deal in sight

Analysts say the Afghan peace process is unlikely to yield any results anytime soon due the complexity of the conflict as well as the plethora of domestic issues Ghani's administration now confronts.

"The government is facing too many internal challenges and that makes it difficult for Afghan leaders to decide on a practical peace strategy," Zaland said, referring to the failures of the government in terms of stimulating economic growth, providing effective governance and implementing much-needed reforms.

In order to resolve the long-standing violent conflict in Afghanistan, analyst Fakur stresses, it is imperative for Kabul to address core issues with Pakistan, including the disputed border between the two countries as well as Islamabad's angst about India's clout in Kabul.

"Afghan leaders need to have the courage to discuss border issues with Pakistan and provide guarantees that India will not use Afghan soil against Islamabad," he said, adding that only then will Pakistan be earnest in its efforts to bring the Taliban to the peace talks.

Nevertheless, the experts remain skeptical. Given the poor prospects for a peace deal in the near future and the current fragile political situation in both the countries, analysts Fakur and Zaland emphasized that the conflict in Afghanistan is likely to continue for a long time to come.