The Taliban are reported to have named Imran Khan as part of their five man mediation team. From what I understand, this group (which includes four leaders from religious parties) will be intermediaries between the government negotiations committee and the nine-man ‘siyasi’ team being set up by the Taliban.
Besides all the orgasmic “told you so” and “Imran Khan is Taliban!” ecstasy on social media, which deserves to be ignored, there is an intense debate about how he should respond. As usual, what Imran will do has captured the national attention much more so than anything the Prime Minister or his cabinet are saying.
As with everything else, there are pluses and minuses, whichever way he chooses to go.
On the positive side, Imran’s participation will add transparency and be a counter-weight to the extreme right voices of the committee. He may even be able to play a role in keeping both parties true to the spirit of genuine, meaningful negotiations.
On the other hand, the Taliban clearly don’t trust the intelligence agencies to meet the official government committee directly. Hence the mediation team. As such, the mediation role is essentially that of a messenger, with no authority to commit from either side. And as the committee has been nominated by the Taliban, it will be portrayed as “their team” by our right wing liberals. (I can’t think of a better description for these torch-bearers of secular moderation.)
On balance, I’m of the view that Imran should take this as an opportunity to firmly align with the State and distance himself from the right wing corner that he’s being painted into. As an opposition leader, his job is to stay close to government policy, comment on the flaws he sees, provide alternatives where needed and support when deserved. That’s where he can add real value, not in a glorified messenger role.
In any case, the government’s will to ensure a successful peace process was clearly reflected in statements by Rana Sanaullah and the early part of the Prime Minister’s speech when he finally appeared in parliament. Add that to deeper foreign policy and civil-military relationship issues underlying this situation, any role that doesn’t bring with it some decision-making authority will not be meaningful.