The Afghan Taliban recently took over the headlines that usually belong to ISIS when it confirmed that its senior leaders would be in Pakistan to discuss the release of prisoners as well as Mullah Baradar, the group’s former second-in-command and the issue of Afghan refugees. While some reports said that they would also discuss the Afghan peace process, the Taliban’s Qatar office issued a statement denying that the process was on the agenda.
All this talk about talks left a lot of confusion in its wake, but the first question a lot of people asked was:
Wait, the Afghan Taliban has a ‘Qatar Office’?
Yup, the Afghan Taliban opened an office in Qatar’s capital city of Doha in 2013. The office was meant to give the insurgent group a political arm with a definite address and representatives who can be approached openly. This was to make it easier for the Afghan government and others to get in touch with the Taliban for talks aimed at resolving the long-standing Afghan conflict. Qatar was chosen because the Taliban already had representatives in the country before the office was opened and the group felt the Arab nation was a neutral party. While the US was okay with this, the Afghan government felt that the office undermined its leadership of the peace process.
But aren’t the Afghan Taliban terrorists?
While the group is designated as an official terrorist organisation by some countries like Canada and Russia, the United States of America considers the Taliban insurgents, not terrorists. But the USA does label the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organisation. The networks acts as a powerful militant arm for the Afghan Taliban. Many senior Taliban leaders are also on the United Nations blacklist.
Isn’t there also a Taliban in Pakistan that’s attacking the state?
Yes, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It’s based in the country and was not founded by the Pakistan establishment like the Afghan Taliban. In fact, it was born to fight the Pakistan state. Even though the TTP has pledged its allegiance to Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban’s deceased commander, the Afghan Taliban has, in the past, denied reports of joining hands with the TTP.
Why does Afghanistan want to talk to the Afghan Taliban anyway?
The Taliban is the most powerful insurgent group in Afghanistan and wants to take control of the state and establish a government under Sharia law. Through violent means, the group has been taking control of regions by force. All this has led to a persistent and deadly conflict that has involved not only the Afghan government but Western countries as well. A vast amount of resources and huge number of human lives have been lost. To end this, the Afghan government and Western backers want to strike a deal with the Taliban to bring peace in Afghanistan.
Where does Pakistan come in?
Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban have a long-standing relationship which dates back to the formation of the group in 1994. In fact, the Taliban trace their origins back to militants who were trained by Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan War that began in 1979 and lasted for nine years. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan lasted from 1996 to 2001 and after its fall, the top leadership fled to Pakistan where they remained.
So, Pakistan admits that it’s harbouring the Taliban?
For the longest time, Pakistan maintained that it didn’t provide a safe haven to the Afghan Taliban. But this year, Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, surprisingly admitted that the Taliban leadership is in Pakistan and uses the country’s medical facilities. He said that their families are in the country as well and, thus, Pakistan can wield considerable influence over them.
Pakistan plays a crucial role in trying to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. But even with all their links to each other, there still remain questions about how much influence the country actually wields over the group.