Kabul: Marzia Babakarkhail, a former court judge in Afghanistan who fled to London to evade the Taliban and now leads an Afghan women’s organisation, in an exclusive interview told MyNation that Taliban could not be handed the reins of the peace talks.

“We still fear that they will be back. They must not be given any leverage to dictate terms. The worst will come to women if they are back. We don’t want Sharia in its worst form to be imposed on us.  The US should take that into consideration as we are the ones affected the most,” she said.

While she fears for the future of Afghanistan, the US peace talks with the Taliban are fast becoming a broth that runs the risk of being spoiled by too many cooks.
The US’s negotiations with the Taliban to end almost two decades of war in Afghanistan, which would allow President Donald Trump to walk away with the glory of finally bringing them to an end and taking his boys home, have run into several roadblocks as major stakeholders, Pakistan and Afghanistan government, are pulling in opposite directions.

Fear of Taliban

The Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani, whose pull is lessened by the fact that his tenure comes to an end on May 22, is sore at the US excluding Afghanistan from the peace talks with the Taliban. His hands are strengthened, though, by Afghan nationalism which has rallied his people to him and even to an extent his potential challengers in the Presidential elections who do not want to look bad in polls.

While his regime has publicly supported the US peace initiatives, positions taken on social media betray a different atmosphere inside. The public ire at the US is based on their biggest nightmare, a comeback by the Taliban.

Pakistan Factor

The biggest trouble-maker in the process is Pakistan. The rogue country has not just exported terror on Indian soil for decades, it has also destabilised its other neighbours, Iran and Afghanistan.

Its agencies, mostly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have nurtured the Taliban very assiduously as an instrument of diplomacy with the US. Remember, Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed on Pakistani soil.

Pakistan wants, Afghanistan believes, to make the Taliban part of the peace process and therefore inject it into future governments and establishments.

Just a day ago, Pakistan and the US locked horns on Twitter, initiated by Pak President Imran Khan suggesting that a neutral interim administration in Afghanistan could help end the impasse with the Taliban.

Afghan government squirmed in anger and that was visible. They not only summoned Pak diplomat in Afghanistan, but also recalled Atif Mashal, the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan.

Amrullah Saleh, a vice-presidential candidate for the next elections in Afghanistan and former head of the country's intelligence services derided Khan for the comment. In an interview with France 24, he announced that Afghanistan will not bow to Pak pressure and deprecated “their militaristic and terror-centered policy in #Afghanistan has caused a lot of bloodshed and also caused stagnation back in Pakistan.”

Seeing the meddling, US ambassador in Afghanistan John R Bass rebuked Khan on Twitter, actually mercilessly. The jibe actually suggested how sensitive this is for the Trump administration. “Some aspects of #cricket apply well in diplomacy, some do not. @ImranKhanPTI, important to resist temptation to ball-tamper with the #Afghanistan peace process and its internal affairs. #AfgPeace,” Bass tweeted.

He got it back too as a Pakistani minister Shireen Mazari called him “little pygmy” on Twitter.

Pakistan’s efforts to tenaciously sling to the Taliban conundrum is quite openly seen here as its relations with the US have only plummeted.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit,” Trump had said in his first New Year tweet on January 1.

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

US-Afghan dynamics

The relations between the two countries is in crisis. While the US has opened bilateral talks with the Taliban, many in Ghani’s administration believe that it is their internal matter and should be dealt with by Ghani himself.

US’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad who is himself Afghanistan-born, is part of the problem. The souring of relations between the Kabul and Washington began after Ghani’s national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib accused Khalilzad of perhaps attempting to become the next Afghan President.