Can Turkey broker peace in Afghanistan?

Although Turkey has shown interest in resolving the protracted Afghan conflict, experts say there isn't much Ankara can do in this regard. Also, too many uncoordinated peace talks are unlikely to yield results, they say.

Turkey is set to host the Afghan peace talks in March. Abdulhakim Mujahid, the head of the Afghan Peace Council, believes it could be a turning point in the efforts to find durable peace in the war-torn country.

"Turkey is an important country, which can positively influence regional themes. Both the Afghan government and the Taliban have friendly relations with Ankara," Mujahid told DW.

Mujahid, however, did not elaborate what kind of ties exists between Turkey and the Taliban.

Some Afghanistan experts claim that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan supported the Afghan Mujahideen (Islamic warriors), particularly the Hezb-e-Islami group, in the 1980s. Hezb-e-Islami, which fought against the Soviet Union, is now an Afghan government ally.

Kabul hopes that its peace agreement with Hezb-e-Islami could serve as a blueprint for talks with the Taliban, but many Afghan officials fear that Pakistan could hijack the peace process once again to serve its own interests.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, who recently concluded his trip to Ankara, has once again emphasized the need for peace in Afghanistan and highlighted his country's role in the Abu Dhabi process that paved the way for talks between US representatives and Taliban commanders.

But Latif Arasch, a Kabul-based political analyst, warns against high expectations from involving Turkey in the peace process. He is of the view that neither the Taliban nor the US will participate in the Turkey talks, but the summit could still mend bilateral ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Read more: Afghanistan: Peace without women's rights?

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04:52 mins.
DW News | 28.11.2018

US & Afghanistan call on Taliban to negotiate

Lacking a direction

After Abu Dhabi, the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah has been named as the next venue for the Afghan peace talks, but the Taliban said they would prefer the meeting to be held in Qatar, which hosts the group's international office.

The Afghan Peace Council also said it would only send its delegates to Saudi Arabia if the Taliban agreed to engage in talks with Kabul. The Taliban have thus far refused to talk to the Afghan officials, saying they do not consider the Afghan government to be a legitimate representative of the Afghan people.

Read more: Why are Kabul and Washington not participating in Moscow-led Taliban talks?

Bismillah Randschbar, an expert on Central Asia at the Afghan Center for Strategic Studies, told DW that Afghan peace talks lack a direction. "We can only hope for peace when there are synchronized efforts in a certain direction — when these efforts do not cancel out each other," said Randschbar.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

Fragile security

Repeated attacks in Afghanistan over the past several months have killed and wounded hundreds of innocent Afghans, and shown the world the fragile and worsening state of security in the conflict-stricken country. The incidents have plunged war-weary Afghan citizens into a state of despair and highlighted the limitations faced by the government in Kabul in ensuring public security.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

A long series of attacks

The violent incidents have made Afghanistan once again a staple of international headlines. Outfits like the Taliban and the "Islamic State" (IS) have claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Afghan government is under heavy pressure to restore security and take back territory controlled by a number of insurgent groups, including the Taliban and IS.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

Spring offensive

Last week, the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive, dismissing an offer of peace talks by President Ashraf Ghani. The militants, fighting to restore their version of strict Islamic law to Afghanistan, said their campaign was a response to a more aggressive US military strategy adopted last year, which aims to force the militants into peace talks.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

Trump's Afghanistan policy

US President Donald Trump unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan last year, vowing to deploy more troops, on top of the 11,000 already in the country, to train and advise Afghan security forces. Trump also pledged to support Afghan troops in their war against the Taliban and maintain American presence in the country for as long as there was a need for it.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

Afghan peace process

Despite President Ghani's offer in February for peace talks "without preconditions," the Taliban have shown no interest, dismissing the peace overtures as a "conspiracy." Observers say it is unlikely that the militant group will engage in any negotiations, as they currently have the upper hand on the battleground. The Taliban now control more Afghan districts than at any other time since 2001.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

Pakistani support

Pakistan has been under pressure from Kabul and Washington to stop offering safe havens to militants blamed for attacks in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad denies and insists that its influence over the insurgents has been exaggerated. Kabul and Islamabad regularly trade accusations of harboring the other country's militants and the harsh language has underscored the strains between them.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

Role of the warlords

Apart from the Taliban, Afghan warlords exercise massive influence in the country. Last year, Hizb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul after a 20-year exile to play an active role in Afghan politics. In September 2016, the Afghan government signed a deal with Hekmatyar in the hope that other warlords and militant groups would seek better ties with Kabul.

The endless battle for power in Afghanistan

An inefficient government

In the midst of an endless battle for power, President Ghani's approval ratings continue to plummet. Rampant corruption in the Afghan government and a long tug-of-war within the US-brokered national unity government has had a negative impact on the government's efforts to eradicate terrorism.

Conflicting interests

The Taliban seem to have more time and patience before they agree to take part in negotiations. While all parties are now trying to woo them into discussions, the Islamists are not in a hurry. Even Iran, a Shiite-majority country at odds with the hardline Sunni Taliban, does not shy away from expressing its desire to engage with the militant group. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi recently confirmed a meeting between Iranian officials and the Taliban and traveled to Kabul last weekend to discuss the future of the Chabahar Port that is crucial to the interests of Iran, Afghanistan and India.

On the other hand, Pakistan is coordinating efforts with China and Russia to further its own interests. The US has removed Chabahar from its list of Iran sanctions, acknowledging its importance to Afghanistan and India.

Experts say the biggest challenge in the present scenario would be to somehow bring different stakeholders closer together and align conflicting geopolitical interests to peace in Afghanistan. But that Turkey could somehow facilitate that would be asking for too much, they say.

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00:32 mins.
News | 28.02.2018

Afghan president calls on Taliban to join in peace talks