Colombia’s only way out of war

 

 

Why the agreement reached by Santos and the FARC is the best option Colombians have to leave their bloody past of civil conflict behind and build a future of peace and growth

 

After 52 years of a civil war that cost the life of 220,000 people, after long-drawn and tiring negotiations, and after a referendum that in October seemed to have halted the whole process, the Colombian Senate and Congress approved a revised peace agreement (to which 50 changes have been introduced with respect to the former version) reached by the government led by Santos and the FARC guerrillas led by Timoshenko.

 

However, despite the importance of the Congress’s approval in pushing the peace process forward, opposition to the agreement among Colombians still remain.

Led by former President Uribe, many Colombians who have never seen their country at peace, consider the deal reached by Santos too lenient, since it grants amnesty to FARC members who have blood on their hands and it allows FARC leaders to take part legitimately in the country’s political life.

 

Confronted with such opposition, if Santos wants the agreement on which he has spent so much time and so much energy to become effective and to be enforced, he has to embark with seriousness, patience, and constancy in the most difficult challenge of all: explaining to his fellow citizens -many of whom have suffered (or seen family members and friends suffer) at the hands of the FARC- why a peace agreement is the best option on the table and the only way out of war.

 

After half a century of civil war that has torn the country’s stability apart and severely reduced its potential of growth, it is clear that the Colombian army cannot succeed in winning against the FARC militarily.

As the events of the past years have shown, the best that the Colombian army can hope for is to win battles against the FARC, but winning the war is another matter and one in which the possibilities of success for the country’s regular forces are simply too low to be credible and too weak to stand as foundations of an effective strategy. Due to both flaws of the Colombian army in terms of training, corruption and technological development and due to the fighting capabilities of the FARC and the free movement that they enjoy in many parts of the country where the government’s protection umbrella does not reach, the asymmetrical war between army and guerrillas is thus one that -if let free to continue- will likely condemn the country to other 50 years of death and suffering.

 

In this context, it is thus evident that an alternative to a military confrontation which is doomed to stalemate needs to be found, and the only viable alternative rests in an agreement. Recalling a classical mantra of political affairs, if you cannot win against your enemy you cannot but sit down with him and work on a solution acceptable to both.

In the case of the FARC-government confrontation, the only solution is a political deal capable of halting the conflict and encouraging the FARC to give up weapons. However, for this to be possible and to encourage the FARC to move along a path that goes “from bullets to ballots” some concessions need to be made, and it is here that amnesty and participation in the political process find their explanation and justification. Without granting to the FARC amnesty and without allowing the FARC leaders to take part as a legitimate force in the country’s politics, it would in fact be impossible for Colombia to obtain the cessation of hostilities and fighting to which it and its people aspire.

As the experiences of other countries have shown, (from post-apartheid South Africa to the agreement singed last October in Afghanistan between Ghani and Hekmatyar) complex processes of national pacification always come with a price, and necessarily require the population to come at terms with its bloody past, to forgive and at times to forget, in order to build a peaceful future.

 

Clearly, the Colombian case is one of a costly and painful do ut des, but one that is necessary if the aim is to achieve peace. Therefore, what Santos needs to explain to his people is that, even if it seems that it is the government that is conceding the most, if the peace agreement is given a chance it will be the country and not the FARC to win the most.

 

 

[Picture: The Economist]

Advertisements

The Afghan-led peace process: reality or illusion?

 

How to read the just reached agreement between Kabul and Hekmatyar in the framework of a broader Afghan-owned peace process

 

When looking at a map of Afghanistan, the first geographic feature that comes to one’s attention is the mountainous landscape. Especially in the North East of the country –there where the high peaks of the Hindu Kush are- the landscape is made of harsh mountain passes, hidden caves, and isolated provinces where tribal allegiances still regulate daily life and where Kabul’s arm cannot reach.

Since the civil war that tore the country apart in the ‘90s, these geographic features have rendered the north-eastern regions of Afghanistan an attractive hideout for terrorist groups and warlords seeking a secure base. After 1989, many political and military leaders who refused to recognize the government established in Kabul managed to exploit the physical isolation and the political tribalism of the country’s North East to settle there.

 

Among those warlords, a special role was played by Hekmatyar, a powerful Ghilzai Pashtun who in 1977 had founded the group Hizb-i-Islami and who was one of the most prominent and most controversial protagonists of Afghanistan’s civil war. As many other warlords, when in 1996 Kabul fell to the Taliban Hekmatyar left the capital and found a secure base for his group in the Eastern regions of Kunar, Paktia and Laghman. Since that moment on and even after the Taliban’s fall, Hizb-i-Islami became one of the many groups that, exploiting secular ethnic-tribal ties and the disaffection of the local people with a central government incapable of providing security, compete with Kabul for influence and power.

 

Yesterday, though, a turning-point was reached as Kabul and Hizb-i-Islami reached a peace deal.

According to the agreement, Hekmatyar commits to the acceptance and respect of the Afghan constitution, to the rejection of violence, and the abandonment of any military and financial support to terrorist groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda (with whom Hekmatyar has a long history of collaboration). On its part, the Afghan government accepted to grant impunity to Hemkatyar (who is accused of committing several war crimes during the civil war’s years), to encourage international actors to lift any sanction and restriction against the group, to release several members of Hizb-i-Islami who are currently in jail, and to allow Hizb-i-Islami to run in elections.

 

As soon as the agreement was announced, it was met with enthusiasm and optimism worldwide. Spokespersons for the EU and the US praised the agreement as a crucial step towards Afghanistan’s stability and the defeat of terrorism, and as a proof that “peace is possible” and that a “new narrative” is now being created in the country.

However, within Afghanistan, voices were less optimistic and many protesters took to the streets to denounce the agreement. Many Afghans, in fact, regard the deal as the unjustified forgiveness of one of Afghanistan’s bloodiest warlords and as the dangerous inclusion in the country’s politics of one of Afghanistan’s most controversial political figures.

 

As in most such cases, the truth lies probably in between.

Over the past few years, Hekmatyar and his Hizb-i-Islami have played a limited role in the Afghan insurgent dynamics, that were rather dominated by the Taliban’s re-emergence and by ISIS’s appearance. In this context, Hizb-i-Islami did not expand beyond its powerbase in the North East and limited itself to giving support to one warring group or the other according to the moment’s convenience. Due to this limited active role on part of Hektamyar’s group, it is difficult (and somewhat naïve) to think that yesterday’s agreement will bring Afghanistan closer to stability and peace.

Nevertheless, the agreement cannot and should not be dismissed as Ghani’s latest vain effort at peace.

Firstly, the deal is important because it was reached without any UN or international mediation and was the result of a long-waited Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peacebuilding effort.

Secondly, the agreement has a crucial symbolic value: in the eyes of the Afghan people, the deal strengthens the credibility of Ghani as security provider and his image as President capable of healing the factionalism of the Afghan politics and of pursuing inclusiveness; in the eyes of the international community, the deal reinforces the perception of Ghani as reliable partner of a peace process centred on dialogue and negotiations.

Finally, the agreement is especially commendable because granting immunity to Hekmatyar and allowing Hizb-i-Islami to participate in the political process it might encourage other insurgent groups to put down the arms and seek dialogue with Kabul.

 

For this to happen, though, a simple signature on a sheet of paper is not enough and the real challenge lying ahead for Ghani is the implementation of the deal. In order to make the rapprochement to Hizb-i-Islami acceptable to all Afghans and attractive to other insurgent groups, in fact, Ghani will have to follow a two-pronged action: on the one hand, give to Hekmatyar’s faction the promised access to the country’s political system; on the other hand, prevent the delicate -and by some contested- inclusion of Hizb-i-Islami from turning into a further cause of instability and stalemate.

 

The above challenge is a crucial one, since a failure in implementing the deal fully and smoothly will translate into a loss of credibility for Ghani and his government, and into a consequent increase of support for those insurgent groups that still reject talks with Kabul and pursue armed struggle.

Reaching the deal was thus just the first step of that Afghan-led peace process that the country desperately needs.

Life after Mansour: Afghanistan’s new act

What next in Afghanistan now that the Taliban have lost their leader (again)?

 

On Sunday 22 May, a US drone strike killed the leader of the Taliban Mullah Mansour in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, thus marking the opening of a new phase in the development of the AfPak region’s political dynamics. The killing of Mansour, in fact, not only will force the Taliban to go through the delicate process of appointing a new leader, but it will also have a major impact on the relations between the Taliban and the Afghan government – and therefore on the future of Afghanistan.

 

It was less than a year ago when the news of the death of the group’s founder Mullah Omar was released and the Taliban had to appoint a new leader. Far from being a smooth process, the debate on whom to appoint caused deep rifts within the Taliban, and when the final decision fell upon Mullah Mansour many denied to pledge allegiance to him and many others left the Taliban to join ISIS-Khorasan. In July 2015, thus, the Taliban had lost its traditional cohesion and appeared – to enemies and supporters alike – as a weak group.

Faced with such delicate and vulnerable situation, the new leader embraced a strategy made of deadly attacks across Afghanistan, continuous fights with the national forces, and rejection of any prospect of talks with Kabul so as to increase its credibility among the Taliban (as well as among enemies) and give to the group renewed cohesion.

 

Now that Mansour has been killed, the challenge the Taliban face is that of appointing a successor approved and recognized as legitimate by everyone within the group. A failure in this sense would make the Taliban even less united, with more splinter groups conducting their independent actions and attacks, and this would have tremendous consequences for the prospect of peace talks.

What last summer’s shift in leadership made clear, in fact, is the impossibility of having negotiations when one of the parties involved in them is internally divided. After a first round of talks held in Murree, what made it impossible to go ahead was that the internal division caused within the Taliban by the appointment of Mansour did not allow Kabul to identify in a clear and unambiguous way who its interlocutors were. With the group divided and led by a leader not recognized by all members, it became impossible for the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to have a clear picture of which leaders/members were supporting the talks, to what extent, and how representative of the whole group they actually were.

From this point of view, thus, the killing of Mansour opens the possibility of having a new, legitimate and broadly accepted Taliban leader who could make the group more cohesive and thus make it possible for Kabul to at least identify whom pressure has to be put on to push the Taliban to talk.

 

For Ghani’s government, thus, the death of Mullah Mansour is of crucial importance both politically and militarily. Indeed, the death of Mansour represents for the Taliban a major blow in reputation and credibility capable of boosting the morale of the Afghan national forces that are involved in daily struggles against them and that had to see the terrorist group achieve important successes in 2015. Deprived of their leader, the Taliban are now immersed in the appointment process, which implies the Afghan national forces can take advantage of this temporary respite from fight to better organize themselves and strengthen their holdings on disputed regions and provinces.

In addition, Mansour’s death has not only affected the credibility of the Taliban’s operative capabilities. It has also shed light on how the Taliban’s war-based approach is inherently shortcoming if the group aims to territorial control and political say, and how the rejection of peace talks comes at a price for the group.  Many among the Taliban used to reject talks because relying on the belief that war was the only way to political influence. The killing of Mansour has proved them wrong and might now strengthen the position of those Taliban most prone to talks.

 

However, until the Taliban’s new leader is appointed it is not clear which future lies ahead for the perspectives of negotiations. The only certainty is that the death of Mansour has opened a new chapter in the AfPak’s turbulent story. The way in which the story will evolve is now dependent on the intra-Taliban decisions and on Kabul’s capacity to adapt its political and military strategy to them.

 

The Taliban’s renewed cohesion and its impact on peace talks

With Mansour’s role as leader finally recognized by many who had previously contested his appointment, the Taliban have retrieved their usual cohesion and are again a united front. How is this going to impact the possibility of peace talks?

The past ten days have been rich of events for the Taliban group and its internal dynamics.

First, there was the publication of a handwritten letter in which Mullah Zaker — who is one of the most renowned and powerful figures within the Taliban — pledges allegiance to the group’s leader Mullah Mansour. Since the announcement of the death of Mullah Omar last Summer, Zaker had in fact maintained a neutral stance, refusing to leave the Taliban (as many other leading figures did) but, at the same time, denying his open support to the new leader Mansour. However, late last month Zaker made his final decision and eventually sided with Mansour.

Then, a few days later, another major event occurred as Mullah Muhammad Yaqub – Mullah Omar’s eldest son – was appointed head of 15 provinces in the Taliban’s Military Commission and Mullah Abdul Manan – one of Mullah Omar’s brothers – was appointed head of the Taliban’s Preaching and Guidance Commission.

After months marked by internal divisions and power struggles between Mullah Mansour and many among Mullah Omar’s family and long-time loyalists, the allegiance pledged by Zaker and the new roles reckoned to Omar’s son and brother are of particular importance. They indeed reveal that Mansour’s legitimacy is on the rise, that his position as Taliban leader is getting stronger by the day, and that an inner reconciliation is eventually taking place within a Taliban front that many observers had thought (and hoped) was irredeemably fractured. This means that – even if a number of former members have left the Taliban for good and have constituted in the Eastern province of Nangarhar a group affiliated to ISIS known as ISIS-Khorasan that is now fighting against Mansour for power and influence – the group of the defunct Mullah Omar is slowly retrieving its traditional cohesion.

This recovery of cohesion, far from being a merely internal matter with no relevance or significance for the out-group environment, has crucial implications for the prospect of future negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban and therefore for the entire Afghan security scenario.

After a first round of talks held in Murree (Pakistan) last Summer, the internal fragmentation of the group that followed the confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death has since been a major obstacle to any further talk. The division emerged within the Taliban, in fact, has up to now made it impossible for the Quadrilateral Group represented by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China to identify among the Taliban interlocutors who could be reliable and – above all – legitimate enough to sit down, take decisions on behalf of the entire group, and implement them.

However, after the latest events that have interested the Taliban organization and power structure, that obstacle might be falling down. With the Taliban leadership now rallied around the figure of Mansour, in fact, identifying the interlocutors with whom the dialogue has to be sought and pursued has finally become possible.

This does in no way mean that the Taliban’s inner reconciliation makes negotiations likely. It just means it makes negotiations imaginable (which in a country ravaged by war as Afghanistan is not something to be taken for granted).

The possibility of engaging in talks with the Taliban has now more possibilities of becoming reality than it had yesterday, but most will depend on the moves of the Quadrilateral Group.

If they want Mansour’s group to approach the negotiating table, the four countries will need to convince the Taliban of the convenience of those negotiations. In the specific, they will need to stress how the group – despite the territorial conquests made in 2015 in some parts of the country – can achieve through negotiations more (and more durable) power and influence than that it can hope to achieve through war (especially in a moment in which ISIS-Khorasan is opening a new front against Mansour’s group).

If, on the contrary, the four countries of the Quadrilateral Group fail to present negotiation in this terms to the Taliban, then it is unlikely that talks will ever take place and the recent reconciliation within the Taliban will translate into a stronger, united, and more confident Taliban front ready to initiate the 2016 Spring offensive against its enemies. Enemies that in this case would comprise not only ISIS-Khorasan but also the Afghan national forces (and – inevitably – Afghan civilians).

It has thus come for Kabul, Islamabad, Washington and Beijing the time to engage in the most important and most difficult match with the Taliban: that of convincing them that without peace talks there is no future in Afghanistan for neither side.

China’s Role in the Match between Kabul and the Taliban

While the dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban has entered a phase of stalemate, China continues to be one of the most important actors involved in the efforts of pushing the parties to talk. But what are the reasons and the implications of such Chinese policy?

 

 

Of the various regions with which China shares its borders, the area known as AfPak always had a major importance. Yet, it is especially over the past few years that this region – that spans across Pakistan and Afghanistan and borders China’s Xinjiang province – has seen its relevance increase even more in the strategic calculations of Beijing in South Asia.

Since the ‘80s – with the Soviet-Afghan war and the advent of jihadist terrorism – the area has emerged as source of instability and insecurity for the whole region, and it is such a volatility that is giving it priority in China’s geopolitical choices (and worries).  In the eyes of Beijing, in fact, the instability of an area that is at its south-western borders represents a double threat with which it necessarily has to deal – and in front of which it cannot delay an effective response.

 

On one side, there is the threat posed to China’s national security. This threat mainly takes the form of the influence that Afghan and Pakistani terrorist groups exert on extremist groups of Uighurs active in the Xinjiang which in more than one occasion have resorted to terrorism to express their opposition to Beijing.

On the other side, there is the threat posed to China’s economic interests. Due to its geographic position, the AfPak region plays a primary role in the trade relations that China maintains with the Central Asian countries from which it imports oil and gas. In addition, it is vital for the implementation of the silk road economic belt – a crucial development and economic project elaborated by China in and for Eurasia.

 

The stability of the AfPak region is therefore a priority for the Chinese government due to economic and security reasons.

It is for these reasons that over the past few years Beijing has deepened its role in the region’s dynamics and it is in this context that we shall place (and explain) the strategy followed by China with respect to the issue of the dialogue between the Taliban and Kabul.  Since the beginning of last year, China has proposed itself as key player in that delicate and complex process aiming to seek a direct negotiation between the two conflicting parties. In the specific, it has intervened by exploiting its influence over Islamabad (explained by the numerous trade agreements and investment plans that bind Pakistan and its economic growth to China) to convince the Pakistanis to review their afghan policy and encourage the Taliban to talk.

 

Such a direct intervention on China’s part is especially meaningful as it represents a turning point in the Chinese foreign policy and has relevant implications at regional level.

Traditionally resistive to any direct involvement in the political and diplomatic landscape of South Asia, China is now facing a phase of re-definition of its afghan policy: firm to protect its economic and security interests, Beijing has elaborated an approach centered on a greater political direct involvement. This new approach on the Chinese side has favored the emergence of new dynamics in the game of alliances in the region: under President Ghani Afghanistan has abandoned the traditional line followed by Karzai and has moved away from the Indian ally while getting closer instead to China and Pakistan.

Equally important is then the fact that China’s decision to avoid unilateral interventions and join the Group of Four signals a renewed cooperation with the United States in the AfPak area. In Afghanistan – after all – the strategic interests of Washington and Beijing point in the same direction, with the consequent overture of cooperation opportunities that might impact positively on the negotiation possibilities.

 

However, the efficacy of the new afghan policy implemented by Beijing will depend on a series of factors.

First of all, there is the relation between China and the United States. As said, the more the two countries will be able to take advantage of and work on their common interest in the AfPak’s stabilization, the more China will have in its hands the right cards to play a decisive role.

Secondly, there is the issue of the relationship between China and Pakistan. Beijing’s role, indeed, will largely depend on its capacity of using its political and economic pressure to have Islamabad to moderate its afghan policy (traditionally based on the support given to the Taliban in an anti-Delhi key).

Furthermore, much will depend on the consistency of the Taliban front. Since last summer, when the death of Mullah Omar was confirmed and Mansour became the group’s new leader, the Taliban are internally fractured and this fracture represents the main obstacle to dialogue. The success of negotiations will thus depend on the capacity of the Group of which China is part of identifying reliable interlocutors.

 

Moreover, it is to underline how this new Chinese involvement will not come without risks.

The main risk lies in the fact that an excessive involvement of Beijing in its support to Kabul and – more broadly – in the whole issue of the regional fight against terrorism might exasperate even more the tensions within Xinjiang and strengthen the Uighur radical groups’ hostility to Beijing.

In addition, intervening ever more in the Afghan issues, China risks undermining its friendly relations with many of the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, each of which has in Afghanistan its own political and economic interests that they are more than determined to defend. Among the SCO countries, indeed, the Afghan issue has always been a major source of tension because of its undisputable relevance, and the Chinese intervention might widen differences and diffidence and slow down cooperation also in other areas and on other matters.

Finally, there is to consider the element of the USA and NATO presence in Afghanistan. The more the presence of Western forces is reduced (both in terms of actual numbers both in terms of the tasks and missions to be carried out), the more China – due to its new foreground role – risks finding itself exposed to pressure as far as the possibility of a future ground intervention is concerned. Beijing’s credibility as regional actor might risk being compromised if China did not prove capable of finding a successful balance between its desire of stabilizing the region and its rejection of any military intervention.

The long-time friendship that obstructs peace

Ghani’s re-approach to Pakistan hoping to jointly address the problem of terrorism is deemed to fail until Islamabad is the best friend those terrorists ever had

Even for a country like Afghanistan – whose population has been the victim of continuous violence since 1979 – this year the Taliban’s spring and summer offensive has been a particularly bloody one.

Between the 7th and the 10th of August Kabul was the theatre of four days of terror, death and anger that turned into a game changer for a President who spent the last year trying to cooperate with Pakistan to reach a deal with the Taliban. After the attacks, in fact, Ghani blamed Pakistan for the wave of violence in the capital, portraying the image of a Pakistan that sponsors terrorism – where the training camps for terrorists and the bomb-making facilities that used to operate in the past are still operating today, and where the Taliban are free to hold their meetings – a reference to the meeting held to appoint the new Taliban leader.

It seems, thus, that a turning point has been reached – one that makes Kabul no longer disposed to depend on an ambiguous neighbor, and that reveals how past enmities have always been around the corner during the last year, waiting for the moment to resurface again. Well, that moment might have come.

But why have Ghani’s efforts to get Pakistan cooperate with Afghanistan in the fight against terrorism failed?

This latest turning point in the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan reminds us that Pakistan is already involved in a decade-long relationship from which it can’t (read doesn’t want) get out: the one with the Taliban, whom – product of Pakistan’s deobandi madrassas – have always been used by Islamabad as a means through which to intervene in Afghanistan.

The friendship between Islamabad and the Taliban finds its roots in the Soviet-Afghan war, when Pakistan was supporting through weapons and finances (coming from Islamabad but also from Riyadh and Washington) the most radical mujahideens – above whom Hekmatyar – to get to indirectly control Kabul. After 1989, though, Pakistan’s support shifted from the mujahideens to the Taliban, because it had become evident how Hekmatyar would never enter Kabul, and because the fall of Najibullah and the discredit of all mujhaideen leaders were creating a vacuum the Taliban could exploit to gain support and take the capital.

If the Taliban had more chance than any other to take Kabul, then support to the Taliban was for Islamabad the key to reaching its long-time strategic and political objectives: gain strategic projection in Afghanistan in an anti-India perspective; have in Kabul a Pashtun pro-Pakistan government that would abandon Afghanistan’s territorial claims; turn Afghanistan into a place where to train Kashmiri militants; intervene from Afghanistan in the dynamics of Central Asia – a region whose natural resources had yet to be exploited.

Part of the calculus at the core of Pakistan’s friendship towards the Taliban were also economic interests, as – by supporting the Taliban – Islamabad could use the Quetta-Kandahar road to transfer goods westwards to Central Asia and southwards to the Middle East and the Gulf. Moreover, under the Taliban Emirate, Afghanistan’s poppy production increased dramatically, thus giving a major boost to Pakistani dealers and transport mafia and turning Pakistan into a key transport route for drug exports from Afghanistan.

These the main political, strategic and economic reasons behind the support given to the Taliban by the Pakistani government, the Pakistani army, the Inter-Services Intelligence, the transport mafia and drug dealers.

And though, in the early ‘90s, the friendship between Islamabad and Mullah Omar’s group was leaning in favor of the Taliban, as they were at the time more important for Pakistan than Pakistan was for them: they were in fact Pakistan’s door of access to Afghanistan and Central Asia and the ones who provided hosting and training to Kashmiri militants. Such imbalance became essential in influencing the bilateral dynamics between the two neighboring friends, as it led the Taliban to take advantage of it and refuse to recognize the Durand line, advance claims in parts of the NWFP, give havens to radical Sunni Pakistani groups, and advocate an Islamic revolution in Pakistan. The result was an inevitable social and political unrest in Pakistan – with the security and stability of the country threatened by Sunni-Shia sectarian clashes and Sunni extremism, and the government losing any sparkle of legitimacy and credibility it might have.

To these counter-effects that were beginning to result from Islamabad’s support to terrorists, it is to be added that the smuggling trade in which Pakistan was involved with the Taliban was making corruption spread, was obstructing Pakistani industries, undermining law and order, widening the rich-poor gap (and therefore social contradictions) through a vicious spiral that was making the rich even richer and the poor even poorer.

Moreover, backing a terrorist group condemned by the international community for its abuses, Pakistan found itself isolated – something that had tough consequences on the country’s already suffering economy.

But the political and military elite, as well as the intelligence, had no interests in changing a policy that was increasing their personal wealth and power.

Then, 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan came. Far from being a turning point that led Islamabad closer to the international community, it actually led it closer to the Taliban. After being defeated, in fact, Omar and his loyalists fled to Pakistan, where they could re-organize the group through the establishment of their Shura in Quetta and plan their resurgence thanks to the help coming from those among the elite who hoped to use the Taliban as a proxy force after the US withdrawal. From 2001, thus, Pakistan has been the safe haven from where the Taliban could freely plan attacks to be carried out beyond the Durand line.

But the friendship with the Taliban has always been extremely costly for Pakistan (for the country’s population, if not for its leaders) and new counter effects emerged in 2007 with the birth of the Pakistani Taliban, whose aim was to turn Pakistan into a Taliban state, and who began conducting attacks within Pakistan that are still hitting the country today (as happened in Peshawar last year).

Their emergence clearly showed how Pakistani leaders, by supporting terrorism, were condemning their own country to it. And though, this didn’t lead to any shift in Pakistan’s Afghan policy. It merely led to a hideous distinction between “good” and “bad” terrorists that largely survives today, and that is proving itself the main obstacle to have a sincere cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad on the issue of the Afghan Taliban.

Until Islamabad puts an end to its long-time friendship with the Quetta Shura’s Taliban, no counter-terrorism cooperation with Kabul will be possible.

The only, faint hope left to Ghani, the Afghan people and the peace process, is to convince Islamabad that a cooperation with Kabul would bring about benefits – in terms of regional and internal security, legitimacy, and inclusion in the international political and economic system – that the friendship with the Taliban cannot give.

Only time will tell us how many Afghans and Pakistanis still have to die for this to be understood in Islamabad.