General Raheel Sharif’s day-long visit to Qatar on the eve of The Quadrilateral Coordination Group’s (QCG) meeting to agree on a date for talks with the Taliban is indicative of Pakistan’s decision to include other parties in the reconciliation process. Qatar’s role in the negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the government has been minimal up until now, but the presence of the Taliban’s official office in the country is seemingly enough reason for Pakistan to bring it on board. It is naïve to assume that the COAS only consulted with the government of Qatar in this visit, and a meeting with Stanekzai, heading the Taliban office at the behest of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the Taliban chief, seems much more likely.

The QCG, consisting of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US have unilaterally indicated their sincere efforts to reach to political solution instead of waiting to win the fight militarily. Qatar’s inclusion into this mix seems to come at an inopportune time, especially when the QCG was scheduled to meet in Kabul on Tuesday, to agree on a date for direct talks with the Taliban. The Taliban office in Qatar has opposed the decision to establish direct contact with the Taliban leadership, and instead insists that it must be a key part of the reconciliation process. This is no longer necessary, given the QCG’s efforts to bring the leadership directly into the picture. While the Taliban office in Qatar claims that it speaks for the Afghan Taliban in reconciliation matters, this claim should be not be taken at face value if the ground realities are to be taken into account as well. The in-fighting between various groups belies the Qatar offices real worth to the Taliban, which seems to be almost non-existent.

The Afghan Taliban has only increased its offensive drive against the government in recent times. There are fractious divides that still exist between those who want to negotiate and those who don’t. With spring quickly approaching, the Taliban’s traditional announcement of the launch of their spring offensive looms closer. If this year, like all others before it, the Afghan Taliban makes the announcement, then the hope for negotiations to yield fruitful results is very thin. This round of talks, if nothing else, will establish whether the Taliban sees the negotiation process as a stalling measure, or as a lasting solution. President Ashraf Ghani has now placed himself at the head of those looking to negotiate, and maybe Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s direct involvement would speed things up. The truce between Mansour’s faction, and his biggest challenger, Mullah Rasool is a positive step if both parties come to the table sooner rather than later.