Britain’s top general, Sir Nick Carter, used his personal connections with Afghan and Pakistani leaders in a behind-the-scenes effort to prevent Afghanistan from descending into a full-fledged civil war and help strengthen the stalemate on peace talks negotiated by the United States in Qatar.
Over the weekend, a high-ranking Afghan delegation arrived in Doha to try to revive the near-dormant negotiations, after months in which the Taliban swept much of rural Afghanistan, although they did not hold still no city.
The British initiative dates back more than a year, and saw Carter commute between Kabul and Islamabad in a private jet with one of Pakistan’s top generals and hold a meeting between key Afghan and Pakistani officials in Bahrain, according to reports. Afghan sources.
Carter’s work has been described as “low-key” by Abdullah Abdullah, the government’s top peace envoy, who said the British Chief of Defense Staff was coordinating with both President Ashraf Ghani , whom he knows well, and Abdullah himself.
He declined to comment further on the general’s role. But another senior Afghan official said the purpose of the meetings was to see if Pakistan could be persuaded to use its influence with the Taliban to push the group back to the negotiating table.
The Pakistani government denies any formal connection to the insurgency, but militants have been operating from its border areas for years – last week fighters were filmed seeking treatment in public hospitals – and their families are all based in Pakistan.
Islamabad supported the militants’ first rise to power in the 1990s. Pakistan was one of the very few countries to offer them diplomatic recognition, and its powerful ISI agency has long reported very close ties to the militants.
In May, Carter traveled to Kabul with Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bawja on a private jet that Afghan sources said the army boss British had arranged for a meeting with Ghani.
Carter has enjoyed a personal relationship with the President of Afghanistan since his years as NATO Deputy Mission Commander. At the time, Ghani was in charge of the “transition”, the transfer of the war effort from foreign troops to Afghan troops, and the men spent a lot of time traveling the country.
They kept in touch, apparently on good terms. According to a senior military official, who described Carter as “a great friend of Afghanistan,” the two maintain most weeks.
Not everyone in Kabul thinks Pakistan is really interested in pushing for a negotiated end to the war, even though they appreciate the British efforts.
“This back channel is meant to see if Pakistan can be convinced to use its influence,” the senior official said of Carter’s efforts. “Then all of a sudden they say they actually have no [influence] … There were no practical results.
However, the Taliban’s rapid military advances, which mean they control more than half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts, appear to have spurred a renewed regional interest in attempts to negotiate peace.
A high-ranking Afghan source claimed that the military success had sparked “buyer’s remorse” from neighbors who supported the Taliban but were not ready for them to take so much of the land. country so quickly.
Countries like Iran and Pakistan, unhappy with the US military presence on their doorstep, are now worried about the prospect of an intransigent regime that could spark a flood of refugees or fuel extremist violence across the country. the border.
In early July, Iran hosted the first serious talks in months. Uzbekistan hosted a large gathering of regional powers last week focused on the future of Afghanistan.
And Pakistan would have helped push the Taliban back to the Doha table, where military victories had made the group’s negotiators openly contemptuous of the talks, Afghan sources say. “They told our negotiators that these are no longer peace talks, they are surrender talks,” one of them told Observer.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said his delegation made no remarks about the surrender, and that it was enemy propaganda to claim they did. “It’s not our policy,” he said. “These are negotiations for a peaceful solution to the Afghan issue. “
Despite the Taliban’s rapid advances in recent months, there may still be reasons to try to achieve a negotiated end to the war, although the government should probably offer far greater concessions than it had envisaged. until now.
They haven’t taken large cities yet, it’s unclear how well they can rule large areas, and they might not be able to hold out wherever they’ve captured.
The Taliban, nearly wiped out in 2001 by the United States and its allies, know better than anyone how a defeated movement can slowly come together, rallying support in the fractured landscape of Afghanistan’s ethnic and religious minorities.
Their own overtures for a negotiated surrender 20 years ago have been dismissed by Americans focused not on Afghan peace but on revenge. Their opponents might try to regroup and continue a similar war of attrition.
The Department of Defense declined to comment on Carter’s efforts.