Quadrilateral Coordination Group: Roadmap to Reconciliation
By Imtiaz Gul
Friday Times, January 22, 2016
Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US met in Kabul on January 18 for the 2nd Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) meeting to devise a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan. The meeting can be seen as a step forward, because its primary objective was to build on the work done in the first meeting at Islamabad on January 11. That is, to develop the roadmap for resuming the reconciliation process, which was suspended in July last year after the news of Taliban chief Mullah Omar’s death two years ago caused anger in Kabul.
China’s special envoy on Afghanistan, Deng Xijun, and the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, P Michael McKinley, also participated in the meeting. Their presence resulted in reaffirmations by both Pakistan and Afghanistan of their commitment to fighting terrorist groups of ‘all shades’.
In a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the meeting, the four countries reported “progress on the roadmap”. It also called upon all Taliban groups to enter into early talks with the Afghan government.
The only substantive progress discernible from the statement was agreements on combating terrorism of all sorts and having better ties, diplomatic sources said.
“The QCG countries agree that all forms of terrorism present a grave threat to the countries, the region and the world. The members indicated their commitment to a robust effort to eliminate all forms of terrorist groups, regardless of their national origin, operating in their respective territories,” said the statement.
Pakistani officials, however, insist that the appeal to all Taliban for joining the talks marked a step forward, in a way – an apparent departure from the Afghan insistence on a crackdown against all Afghan insurgents it says are operating out of havens in Pakistan.
Is Mullah Akhtar Mansoor the master interlocutor?
This has been a major sticking point between Islamabad and Kabul. Afghan officials believe an all-out offensive first will force the militants into submission and compel them to come to negotiations. Pakistan, on the other hand, believes the use of force will only impede the road to reconciliation, force combatants into hiding, and dissuade many to become part of talks. It therefore prefers to first exhaust all options of political engagement before applying force.
Through political engagement, officials argue, we can sift “reconcilables “ from irreconcilables. Once that happens, they say, it will be easier to take on the blockers and opponents of reconciliation. But sequencing the military crackdown ahead of the resumption of talks would clearly nudge even many “reconcilables” away from talks.
China and the United States support this approach because the military option pursued since 2001 failed in quelling the insurgency. Now that US and NATO officials are expressing doubts about the resilience of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the Taliban seem to be in ascendency, major NATO partners such as UK and Germany also support the reconciliatory approach.
Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai
“We have been fighting them all these years, but even the combined US-NATO-ANSF power couldn’t subdue them. Why should the Taliban join talks when they see in the ANSF a much weaker opponent?” asked a diplomat.
Minimizing violence understandably remains a key goal and demand, yet most interlocutors don’t see much value in making it a precondition.
They agree, it seems, that the roadmap for the reconciliation process should be free of pre-conditions. Neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government should predicate resumption of the dialogue on demands.
Two major challenges still stare at the QCG – the fissures within the Taliban ranks and doubts about the ability of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor to mobilize the dominant majority of his commanders towards the peace process. Can he really be treated as the master interlocutor or will the four nations have to deal with several Taliban interlocutors? It is also critical whether the National Unity Government will accept all the “reconcilables” as legitimate interlocutors. There is a rocky road ahead.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies