There has been much talk recently of resumed peace talks between the Afghanistan Government and the Taliban, to end years of conflict between the two. These talks, if they go ahead will be a new round in a series of rounds that have been held previously, with both parties returning to a state of conflict after. However, to understand the expected resumption of talks between the two, one needs to take into consideration US interests in the region. The US has firmly implanted herself in the region after 2001 and has been working persistently to secure her strategic interests, that rest on stabilizing Afghanistan. By ensuring security in Afghanistan the US could proceed comfortably in exploiting the oil and gas resources from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea, but to date, it has faced much frustration with this, as ongoing insurgency has meant it has had to invest huge number of human and economic resources in overcoming it.

After 2001, the US thought it could exterminate the Taliban from Afghanistan and establish a new political structure and get on with her plans in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. This can be seen from the fact that it refused to entertain any negotiations with the Taliban, even though there was insistence from the Afghanistan government, which pragmatically realised that the Taliban were unlikely to be defeated given their natural support base and knowledge of the terrain. As a result the Afghanistan government insisted for peace. As real politick set in, and the US began to realise that its military effort was not working in minimizing the threat posed by the Taliban, it began to call on Pakistan to play an active role in decapitating the Taliban through initiating military campaigns in her tribal areas. So from around 2005, with US pressure of ‘doing more’ Pakistan pushed into the tribal areas, with extensive military operations to flush out the Taliban and to weaken their capacity. The Zarb-e-Azb operations are the latest in a series of military operations to squeeze the Taliban. Given US experiences in Vietnam and even Afghanistan in the 1980s she realized that to overcome insurgency there is a need for back door negotiations as military operations have not wiped out insurgent movements. Even the case of Sri Lanka is not conclusive as there is evidence of the Tamil Tigers restructuring and promising a come back. Around 2010, the US resumed peace talks with the Taliban, in particular in 2013, when the Taliban set up a political office in Qatar. This caused much heartache for President Karzai who believed that he would be discarded by the US and replaced by a new coalition government that would involve the Taliban. At the same time there were a number of other forces thattried to sabotage the negotiations to keep the US in a minefield, including the British and the Russians. Despite this failure the US did not give up on possible peace talks in the future, as stability being the key, it knew it could not be achieved without the involvement of the Taliban.

With the new political set up in Afghanistan and a fresh face in the form of President Ghani and his warmer relations with Pakistan, it seems that the US has not only the right man but the right circumstances to get things going again, in particular given that the Taliban have faced a huge military battering from the Pakistan army in the tribal areas. However, the sticking point remains that of getting the Taliban leadership, in particular Mullah Omar, given the strong Taliban loyalty to him.It is unlikely anything would succeed without his involvement and approval. President Ghani has not stretched his hand out to Mullah Omar so far, but there is no doubt with US pressure this would occur at some point, as peace talks with Taliban moderates or any Taliban delegation would be futile without Mullah Omar’s direct involvement. There is pressure on the military establishment in Pakistan to bring Mullah Omar to future peace talks as it is seen as the bridge between the Taliban and the Afghanistan Government given its historical relationship with the Taliban movement. It seems like the US is serious about moving on with peace negotiations, stabilizing Afghanistan, with Taliban involvement, and turning the tide similar to what was in existence before 2001, with a relatively stable Afghanistan and strong rule in Pakistan, with more obvious military involvement in political affairs.

But it is fair to say, that these peace moves and bringing in Mullah Omar from the cold will not please everyone, in particular those across the border in Pakistan who still hold on to ideas of strategic depth, that are irrelevant post US invasion. The political clout one could carry through the use of proxies such as the Taliban would inevitably weaken. There are likely to be winners, such as the US and President Ghani but at the same time losers from inside Pakistan. Pakistan has burnt all her bridges, as it has divorced herself from a strategic asset and turned against a strategic proxy with nothing in return. It will be interesting to see how events unfold in the near future, but what is clear is that the US is eager to formalize a final solution in Afghanistan which would clear her up to pivot further into Asia and execute her wider strategic objectives, such as containing and restricting the influence of China and preventing political challenges to her interests in the region.