March 22, 2018
WASHINGTON — Top Afghan officials see a genuine chance for peace with elements of the Taliban and the Haqqani network but worry the latest effort at reconciliation could be undermined, both by internal rivals and by Pakistan and other foreign influences.
Afghan officials believe those insurgent leaders who seek to make a deal are being threatened, and that some have already been forced to back away following threats to their families.
“It’s not a theoretical threat. It is real,” Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Haneef Atmar said Thursday during a visit to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials.
“There are brave leaders who would run the risk,” Atmar said. “They’re asking for a process by which they and their families are protected to engage in peace.”
Atmar described efforts to accommodate these Taliban and Haqqani leaders as sensitive, explaining it has long been standard practice for the families of influential officials to be held in other locations as a sort of collateral.
“That is the way they are to be trusted,” he said.
One possible solution could involve Saudi Arabia, which has indicated it is interested in supporting both Afghanistan and the larger U.S. strategy in South Asia.
“They want to be better aligned with us,” Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday, following meetings between U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The extent to which the Saudis are willing to go is not clear, though White said there seemed to be a willingness to at least host talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, if not do more to ensure the safety of Taliban families.
“Not necessarily specifically safe haven,” White said of what was discussed. “But talking about [how] we will look at ways to help facilitate a political reconciliation with those Taliban members who are willing to talk.”
But some of the challenges that could stand in the way of reconciliation may be even trickier.
One of those is Pakistan, which has come under repeated criticism from both Kabul and Washington for failing to take decisive action against terrorist elements aiming to destabilize the region, including the Taliban and Haqqani network.
Back in January, the U.S. suspended $1.9 billion in assistance to Islamabad for what senior administration officials described as a lack of commitment.
Now, Afghan officials say they have yet to see any improvement, indicating the action Pakistan has taken against terrorists is often less than helpful.
“We haven’t had any positive response from Pakistan as yet, not any change in the policy they are pursuing,” Afghan National Security Adviser Atmar said during a speech Thursday at the U.S. Institute for Peace.
Instead, Atmar accused Pakistan of pressuring, and even attacking, elements of the Afghan Taliban who are willing to negotiate in good faith.
“We do have Taliban leaders who are working for peace now who are wounded, who were attacked in Pakistan,” Atmar said.
VOA sought comment from Pakistani officials, who have yet to respond.
Further complicating matters, top Afghan officials contend outside powers like Russia have been willing to play some terrorist groups off against one another, for example arming the Taliban under the guise of having the Taliban take on terrorists from the Islamic State group.
U.S. military officials have raised similar concerns. But Atmar said that despite Moscow’s assurances that it is not providing weapons to the Taliban, “we would like to see that in practice.”