As we enter the post-globalised era, the Afghan conundrum remains an unsolved mystery in international affairs. The issue entails perplex dynamics of Afghan politics, embedded in religious fervour that is coupled with warring ethnic groups that have long sought control over the “Graveyard of Empires”. The country has always been defiant, and has quashed, within itself, great empires of the past. Today, after more than 16 years of American adventurism in Afghanistan in the name of the War on Terror (WOT), the country still remains predominantly under the control of its erstwhile rulers: the Taliban. A recent BBC study found that Taliban could now control as much as 70 percent of Afghanistan. Local journalists substantiate these reports and many others which capture the true picture of the ground realities that the Afghan Taliban are in fact regaining their ground and tightening the noose around the US-led Afghan forces. The situation has flabbergasted the Ghani administration which is gradually losing its legitimacy despite the unconditional support it receives from Washington and New Delhi. The administration has ramped up its diplomatic efforts to open avenues of dialogue with the unruly fighters through a series of statements, inviting the Taliban for a table talk and asking friendly countries to mediate those talks. However, the Taliban remain sceptical of this pacifism, viewing it as a stratagem of buying more time in consolidating the administration’s control over the country in a time when it is losing it fast. In pursuance of his diplomatic efforts, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani sought help from his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo during the latter’s visit to Afghanistan earlier this year. Joko proposed hosting a trilateral Ulema (clerics) conference, summoning the clerical elite from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia. The conference was initially planned to be held in March in Bogor Indonesia had to be rescheduled to May, owing to the Taliban’s urge to Afghan clerics of boycotting the summit because it was rumoured that a joint fatwa (edict) will be issued denouncing the Taliban’s activities in Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, the Indonesian government engaged the Taliban’s Doha office and took them in confidence that the conference is merely a mediation process and no fatwa will be proclaimed against them at any stage. Indonesia has remained isolated from the Muslim world for most of its recent history. Now, with ISIS presence increasing on its soil, the country wants to weaken the terrorist group wherever it can, including Afghanistan Soon after getting the Taliban’s support for the conference, it was held in Bogor Presidential Palace on May 11, 2018. A delegation of Ulema from Pakistan was led by Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology Dr Qibla Ayaz, whereas the Afghan delegation was led by Maulana Qayam uddin Kashif. The joint declaration of the conference called on all sides “to join direct peace talks” in efforts to promote dialogue to settle conflicts. The conference, though successful in its goal of engaging Ulema in Afghan peace process, that could open avenues of cooperation between Afghan government and Taliban, engenders several pertinent questions that lie at its heart. Firstly, why was it an Indonesian initiative? With the largest Muslim population and a booming economy, Indonesia has remained isolated from the Muslim world for most of its recent history. Now, with ISIS presence increasing on its soil, the country wants to weaken the terrorist group wherever it can, including Afghanistan. Moreover, the new President, Joko Widodo is seeking a vibrant role in the Muslim world, preparing Indonesia to take on a more commanding role on the world stage. Secondly, why wasn’t this a fatwa? Of course, a fatwa would have made Indonesia a party in the issue, which it wasn’t. Rather, it was a mediator. Its role was to prepare grounds for dialogue between the rival parties. So it was, by no account, a fatwa. Thirdly, the active participation of the Pakistani delegation in the conference signifies the commitment of Pakistan to the stability of Afghanistan and its adherence to the Afghan led, and Afghan owned peace process. Nevertheless, too much cannot be expected from the Ulema delegation since they too have their constraints in mediating this peace process owing to the country’s geo-political insecurities and highly centralised foreign policy when it comes to matters related to Afghanistan. Lastly, it must be acknowledged that the Americans cannot be excluded from the peace process. The Americans are closely following these developments and with 14,000 troops still on Afghan soil any mediation without its involvement is futile. With Iran Nuclear Deal saga, Trump has already proven his unpredictability. This in turn has deferred the Korean peace process. Countries entering deals with the current US administration are having a hard time convincing themselves that the deal will not be shredded at any stage. Similarly, the Taliban are unlikely to strike any deal while Trump remains in office. So, while the prospects of a realistic peace deal are sombre currently, the Bogor conferences could at least keep the doors open for a dialogue and do the ground work for a future US administration that is credible enough to remain committed to its side of the bargain when it comes to deal making. The writer is a political commentator and public speaker with interest in geo-political issues. He can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, May 30th 2018.