Dozens of militants have been killed during clashes between rival Taliban factions in the latest outbreak of an insurrection against the group’s leader, , which flared up last year when the movement’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, .
Up to 100 fighters were killed in the Shindand district of Herat in western , officials told local media on Thursday, when followers of Mullah Mohammad Rasool clashed with Mansoor supporters.
The hostilities are complicating efforts . A recently established group of Afghan, Pakistani, American and Chinese officials have invited the Taliban to discuss peace, but for the moment the militants seem preoccupied with fighting each other, and the government.
In an unpublished roadmap seen by the Guardian, the four countries call on all factions to join the reconciliation process. A big question, meanwhile, is whether the Taliban see any benefit in pursuing peace at a time when they may feel they are winning.
The Taliban than at any point since 2001. In September, they took a provincial capital, Kunduz, and are threatening another, Lashkar Gah in Helmand.
Diplomats in Kabul acknowledge that while informal talks could happen soon, peace is still far off.
“Talks are a key first step, but I don’t see negotiations before the 2016 fighting season is over,” said Franz-Michael Mellbin, the EU’s special representative to Afghanistan. “The government will have to convince the that they can deny them success on the battlefield.”
Doing that might require a more robust international military effort. Afghan government forces are struggling to even maintain status quo, suffering unprecedented casualties and desertions.
“If the US say they will fight [the Taliban] if they don’t come to the table, and the Taliban believes them, they will come,” said Ismail Qasemyar, the international relations adviser to the high peace council, a non-governmental body formally leading negotiations.
In a , the Taliban declined to take part in peace talks, “unless the occupation of Afghanistan is ended, blacklists eliminated and innocent prisoners freed”. But according to Qasemyar, the Taliban know those demands cannot be met before actual negotiations.
“It’s a game,” he said. “They are trying to show they are independent of Pakistan.” Pakistan has long been known to harbour Taliban leaders, which its top foreign adviser, Sartaj Aziz, .
A former top Taliban official emphasised that the Taliban have become more autonomous over the past decade.
“Pakistan have influence over the Taliban, but Taliban are not under the command of the Pakistani authorities,” said Abdul Hakim Mujahid, the former unofficial Taliban representative to the UN and member of the high peace council. A sense of autonomy in the Taliban is necessary for reconciliation to work, he said.
“Dragging the Taliban to the negotiating table will not bring lasting peace,” Mujahid said.
Mellbin pinned his hopes on the upcoming donor conferences in Warsaw and Brussels later this year. International commitments to support Afghanistan could give the parties time and incentive to get the peace process going. It would be folly to expect peace already this year, he said, “however, five years is certainly a realistic timeline”.