Afghanistan is a virtual boiling pot of hostile forces, working maniacally at cross purposes. At the top is its unique national government. It has a perplexed and split personality, demonstrates sorely divided authority and indecisiveness, is epitomised by weak governance and is ruthlessly infiltrated by the Indian intelligence agency, RAW.

The Afghan government faces serious challenges to its writ and quest for political space from the fractured Afghan Taliban and other terrorist groups. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and ND Shave not displayed the will or tenacity to defeat them. Years of war fighting and destruction have failed to yield any tangible results. There is no identifiable victor or vanquished belligerent in this sordid saga. Neither belligerent has been clearly defeated or pushed to a sufficiently weak position where one could impose its will on the other thus obviating the emergence of a suitable environment essential for peace through negotiations. However, one side or the other must eventually get into a position of strength from where it can impose its will on to the other. If such a position is not readily available then it has to be created. Failing which, both belligerents need to gravitate towards arbitration and seek a compromise solution or remain perpetually embroiled in mutually assured destruction.

It is in such a conundrum, that we find the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) comprising the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan itself venturing to find a solution that brings peace and prosperity to this unfortunate land.

The QCG has essentially two workable options. It can either opt to manoeuver the Afghan Government (the Taliban not being an option) into a superior position from which to negotiate or work equitably towards a compromise between the two parties.

To get the Afghan Government into a position of strength, the QCG and the international community at large need to devise strategies to isolate all terrorists groups in the Af-Pak Region from all sources of succour and strength. All cross border movements of men, materials, funds, weapons, munitions, recruitments etc to the terrorists must be effectively blocked. Potent and effective information and psychological warfare campaigns must be launched to wean the populations away from their infective propagandas. A simultaneous push by military forces (ANSF, US, Pakistan) ought to pile further pressure on them. Concurrently, all external interferences by hostile intelligence agencies must be stopped. Gradually, starved of all types of aids and reinforcements the terrorist groups could be reduced to a position of genuine weakness. However, this strategy has already been tried before, albeit half-heartedly and unsuccessfully.

Therefore, the QCG must now create the conditions essential for a viable all-encompassing compromise.

The challenge for the QCG is to first create an ubiquitously acceptable environment that promises peace, progress and equitable political power for the main belligerents. The Taliban and other groups will have to be reduced to a major group of those willing to talk while isolating and neutralising piecemeal those who do not concur. The main belligerents must be reduced to just the manageable two that is – the Taliban& Co and the democratic Government. Thereafter, through a deft management of encouragements, inducements, incentives, honours and rewards the QCG should push them towards a joint settlement that leads to a peaceful Afghanistan. Not far below the surface should be the imminent threat of inevitable and assured series of leverages, punishments, retributions, reprisals and sanctions in case of non-compliance. A masterful and correctly balanced interplay of incentives and leverages should then be applied to get both the main belligerents to come to an acceptable solution to this festering Afghan tragedy.

The major Taliban preconditions for talks are generally the removal of travel restrictions and bounties on the heads of various Taliban leaders, unfreezing of assets, release of prisoners, and recognition of an official venue for the Islamic Emirate and the departure of foreign forces. Apart from the last two demands mentioned above the others may be accepted on a scale corresponding directly to the Afghan Taliban’s readiness to talk and negotiate.

The void between the positions of the Taliban and the secular politicians is very wide. Whereas the Taliban desire an essentially Shariah based Islamic order the secular political elite prefers a western style democracy. A middle way will have to be found. A constitutional framework founded on basic Islamic injunctions stipulating a system of elections and a sovereign parliament might be acceptable to both parties.

As major incentives the Taliban& Co must be offered a fair share in the Government, a reasonable number of ministries in the federal Government, governorships in selected provinces, a prominent role in the defence, military and intelligence organisations, a say in determining the education, interior, foreign relations and economic agendas of the country. They must also be consulted on the contours that will define the character of the proposed Government - one of National Reconciliation. The QCG will have to arbitrate the division of power between the two parties. It will have to be a hybrid Government with the tenure of five years equally divided between the two parties. The President and PM should be from opposing sides during both half-tenures.

A good end state should see the Taliban and the Afghan Government compromising in the national interest and agreeing to an unconditional ceasefire. The Government of National Reconciliation should remain in power for at least five years which should essentially be used to revive and rejuvenate the Afghan economy through heavy investments and by linking it to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Thereafter a referendum be held to determine the character of the Afghan state and its future Governments; elections could follow thereafter.

In addition to the compromises by the Taliban and the Afghan political forces another quadrilateral compromise is imperative; one by the US, Pakistan, Iran and even peripheral India. They need to redefine and mellow down their respective national interests in Afghanistan sufficiently to allow peace a realistic chance!

he writer is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache’ to Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).