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Taliban and the zen of give and take

Lo and behold, the trace of the light which I spotted ten days ago at the end of the Afghan tunnel is getting to be bigger and bigger and is now the size of a tennis ball. 

On Monday, United Nations Security Council in New York decided on an easing of sanctions against select Taliban figures with a view to allowing them to travel to Paris to attend a conference with representatives of the Afghan government and the Northern Alliance [NA] groups. The 3-day conference in Paris is scheduled to begin on Wednesday. 
Notionally, it is a ‘Track II’ event, which is organized by the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris-based think tank, where the Afghans will “talk freely behind closed doors”. The Taliban maintain that their delegates would only speak and not negotiate with the other Afghan groups, while the NA groups insist that they are traveling to Paris only to listen and not to negotiate. The French FM Laurent Fabius gave the best possible spin, saying the Afghan groups will hold discussions but not negotiations
Sophistries aside, the political reality is that ice is being broken on intra-Afghan dialogue, which is a vital prerequisite to any enduring settlement.   
Equally, according to the Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, Islamabad has agreed to release from detention the Taliban’s former deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Obviously, Baradar will be a key figure in any intra-Aghan negotiations. 
No doubt, Washington is thrilled, as a crucial vector is taking shape on what seemed a hopelessly dismal landscape full of uncertainties. The state department spokesperson aptly called the “Afghan-Afghan talks” as the “right way to move forward… So we’ll see what this leads to.”
 To be sure, it’s payback time. A grateful US administration is handing over $688 million to Pakistan, and this time around, the Congressmen on the Hill who spewed venom in their estimations of the military leadership in Rawalpindi aren’t balking. (Which probably explains the swagger in Pak interior minister Rehman Malik’s gait in New Delhi.)  
Indeed, the UN SC’s nod implies that the big powers — Russia and China, in particular — are on board. The twenty participants at the Paris meet include Tajik leaders Ahmed Zia Massoud and Yunus Qanooni, Hazara Shi’ite leader Mohammed Mohaqiq and Uzbek leader Faizullah Zaki — all implacable “enemies” of the Taliban, whom Russia supported in the 1990s. 
That is pretty solid evidence that the NA is willing to engage the Taliban seriously. Unsurprisingly, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov made a dash for Tashkent on an unscheduled visit. Uzbekistan’s role becomes very crucial in the coming period. 
The Taliban will be represented by Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, an experienced diplomat who served as ambassador to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the 1990s and was involved in the abortive talks with the US in Qatar last year. Dilawar’s presence strongly suggests, as al-Arabiya put it, that the Taliban are edging toward the peace table

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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