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No More a Spoiler?

Taliban In jail

Pakistan announced that it was planning to release all Afghan Taliban detainees in the country, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former right-hand man to Taliban top leader Mullah Omar. A top Pakistani Foreign Ministry official, Jalil Jilani, told a news conference on Friday that “The remaining detainees, we are coordinating, and they will be released subsequently.”

The move seems to be, indeed, a bold step and a clear signal about Islamabad’s willingness to help jumpstart the stalled peace process. Pakistan’s role is seen vital in helping the Afghan-led negotiations with the Taliban aimed at bringing a peaceful end to the long-lasting war in the country. Until recently, Pakistan’s military abstained to help the process and meet the repeated demands of the Afghan government for releasing the prisoners of the Taliban. But in recent months, Islamabad has released several Taliban senior militants from the country’s prisons, as the country’s powerful army has increasingly showed interest in facilitating the negotiations with Taliban.

This announcement comes at a critical time, as recently the officials said that there has been fresh momentum in negations aimed at bringing the insurgent groups on the negotiation table. In the same news conference, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Luddin said the peace process had gained momentum in recent weeks with the release of some Taliban detainees by Pakistan, preparations by the Taliban for opening an office in Doha, and President Karzai’s visit to Washington.

Afghan officials have hinted that the there would a breakthrough in peace talks with the Taliban as soon as in 2013, before the 2014 withdrawal deadline of the foreign US-led forces. On the other hand, the government of Afghanistan has prepared a plan for the peace negotiations which includes different phases for confidence-building, prisoner-release, face-to-face talks with the representatives of the group, agreeing on a ceasefire and at the end reaching a settlement on power-sharing and ending the war.

Put together, the latest flurry of diplomatic efforts and Pakistan’s recent steps have rekindled the hopes for beginning peace negotiations with the Taliban, which once was considered as failed project. Whatever the motives behind the new attitude by Pakistan military towards the Afghan conflict, the project of peace-building initiative is rapidly shaping into a concrete plan with all key players nodding a go-ahead to it.

The efforts take more pace while the US-led international forces are beginning to handover combat responsibility to Afghan forces this spring. It seems that the Taliban –or at least- some of its leadership are increasingly convinced that the war would not be won through insurgency after the foreign troops leave the country in 2014, and instead they would face the Afghan National Army. All these may boost the chances for potential negotiations for peacefully settling the conflict.

But despite the consensus among key players, there would be serious challenges ahead of the peace efforts including the realities on the ground and, as the US is increasingly losing interest in maintaining a substantial level of residual force behind when it leaves Afghanistan.

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