Afghan peace talks rest on Taliban ‘fantasy’?


United States airstrikes have helped to break a bloody impasse between Afghan troops and Taliban militants north of Kabul, allowing repair crews to reach downed power lines and restore electricity to the capital after more than three weeks of disruption, The New York Times reports:

The United States’ action ensured that the lights were on in Kabul in time for a meeting on Tuesday of a four-nation group that is working to restart the Afghan peace process. The so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group, made up of diplomats from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, issued a statement after the discussions inviting the Taliban and other antigovernment groups to meet with representatives of President Ashraf Ghani in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, by the first week of March.

The Obama administration pins its hopes on China and Pakistan persuading the fundamentalist Islamist group to negotiate the end of its insurgency, notes Husain Haqqani, the director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute and Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., 2008-11. Yet the Taliban’s main demand—the establishment of what they deem to be an Islamic order—is nonnegotiable, he writes for the Wall Street Journal:

They talk not with the intention of giving up fighting but to regroup and attack again….. Yet Pakistan may no longer be able even to bring a unified Taliban movement to the negotiating table. The Taliban have splintered, and factions affiliated with ISIS have emerged to compete with groups tied to al Qaeda. Although the Taliban continue to depend upon the ISI for money, training and arms, it is becoming clear that at least some Taliban leaders would rather follow an independent course.

Hamid Arsalan [right], a defense analyst associated with Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, said the Afghan government has realized the significance of the Pakistani military’s sway over the Afghan Taliban, VOA reports.

“I think President Ghani realizes that reaching an agreement with Pakistan and especially the Pakistani military establishment will be part of an agreement reached with the Taliban,” he said.

Muslim-majority Pakistan has long been awash with terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, which has been based in the country since 2001. Now, there are signs that some extremists are shifting allegiance to Islamic State, The Wall Street Journal adds.

One reason experts say more haven’t left to fight abroad is that Pakistan has such a large number of domestic jihadist groups to absorb those radicalized. Officials worry Pakistan’s long history of extremism could provide especially fertile ground for Islamic State. The country already has entrenched Sunni groups whose hatred of minority Shiite Muslims mirrors that of Islamic State.

“Young jihadists who think their groups don’t take enough action, and see Daesh punching at a global level, find it inspirational,” said Omar Hamid, a London-based security expert with consulting company IHS Inc. and former Karachi police counterterror officer, using an Arabic name for Islamic State.

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