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QCG meeting ends without a breakthrough: What lies ahead in the Afghan peace process?

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The 6th meeting of the four-member Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) held in Oman on Monday, seemingly ended without finding any headway in the Afghan Peace Process as representatives from the member countries did not speak about the meeting.

The QCG was initiated in January 2016 after being set up in December 2015; Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, and the US held five meetings until May 2016 in a bid to figure out a way to bring about a political settlement between the National Unity Government (NUG) and Afghan Taliban. The process was halted after a US drone strike killed prominent Taliban leader, Mullah Mansoor.

Analysts are wary that the military-heavy US policy will offset all related peace overtures especially given the repeated resolve of the Taliban of fighting foreigners

Thus far, no communique has been issued which has raised speculations about the stalemate in the meeting. However, the meeting is being deemed important given that it is the first one in Trump’s presidency. It is being considered a positive development because the Trump administration, under its new South Asia strategy is hoping to defeat the Taliban militarily on the battlefield before mulling over negotiations.

Read more: Afghan government’s Kabul Process: Do the political elites really want peace?

Analysts who have keenly studied and covered the war in Afghanistan are skeptical of how the US will coerce the Taliban into talks, let alone achieve an abstract “victory”. They argue that when 100,000 troops in 2010 could not break the war-fighting capabilities of the Taliban, what could a small addition of 3,900 troops achieve.

Islamabad had previously blamed the US for scuttling the QCG by eliminating Mullah Mansoor last year. Experts believe that there is a need to end mistrust if headway is to be made in the peace process

The Taliban has been consistent in its refusal to enter into any kind of agreement till the presence of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. A Taliban source categorically said last week that the Taliban has got nothing to do with the meeting. “Nobody has contacted us, nor are we participating in this meeting. Our stance on talks with the Kabul government remains unchanged. We have nothing to do with this meeting. It is their [member nations] own affair,” the source told VOA on conditions of anonymity.

However, there is a silver-lining: the tacit approval of the US. This meeting also signals an improvement in the ties between USA and Pakistan. After not seeing eye to eye over the plan to solve the Afghan marsh, both countries have witnessed a pleasant goodwill in their ties since the past one week. The successful rescue of an American-Canadian family by the Pakistan Army last week was followed by laudatory references by President Trump for Pakistan. Experts believe that the US has hence decided to see how this process goes.

Read more: Will QCG be effective in bringing the Afghan Taliban to talking…

Islamabad had previously blamed the US for scuttling the QCG by eliminating Mullah Mansoor last year. Experts believe that there is a need to end mistrust if headway is to be made in the peace process. Earlier, it was the intra-group recrimination which led to a stalemate. Watchers are not expecting much from the group at this stage but are still optimistic about the reactivation of the process.

The Taliban has been consistent in its refusal to enter into any kind of agreement till the presence of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. A Taliban source categorically said last week that the Taliban has got nothing to do with the meeting

Analysts identify two key requirements for the QCG to work: robust cooperation between the US and Pakistan, and better Af-Pak ties. While recent events have shown signs that the US and Pakistan may eke-out a cooperative mechanism, it is still highly unlikely that thorny issues will be resolved. The US is propping up India to counter China’s growing influence in the region, something which Pakistan has vociferously rejected.

The other issue pertains to the brazenness of the Taliban. Analysts worry that the idea that the Taliban can be militarily defeated is still pervasive in the US administration. This, they believe will preclude the possibility of bringing it to the negotiating table.

Read more: Military Diplomacy with Afghanistan: Will Gen Bajwa’s visit to Kabul change…

Afghanistan, and the US held five meetings until May 2016 in a bid to figure out a way to bring about a political settlement between the National Unity Government (NUG) and Afghan Taliban

Moreover, there are doubts if Pakistan still has the same clout over the Taliban. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif also alluded to the fast-diminishing of Pakistan over the Taliban. “At least for our influence on Taliban today, there is a mistrust… perhaps they have more influence from other countries in that region than in our Pakistan,” Asif said while referring to Moscow’s growing involvement in Afghanistan.

However, pundits are wary of expanding the QCG because it will make an agreement all the more problematic. According to experts, the Russo-US rivalry, albeit in its nascent stages in Afghanistan, will preclude Russia’s inclusion in the group. Analysts are wary that the military-heavy US policy will offset all related peace overtures especially given the repeated resolve of the Taliban of fighting foreigners. This was evident in today’s attack in Paktia province which resulted in the death of 32 people. The responsibility of the gruesome attack on the Police Training center has been claimed by the Taliban. Nonetheless, the QCG can be a good platform for the members to iron out their own differences before proceeding further on the Afghan peace process.

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