Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Murky Prospects of Peace Process

With Afghan people tired of the ongoing instability and insecurity, the prospects of peace process, unfortunately, do not appear to be bright, as well. In fact, different rounds of talks with Taliban by different authorities, the differences of Afghan government with the regional countries and the inability of Afghan government to control the security situation have made the situation seem very murky. It is the reason that insecurity does not seem to decrease even in the ongoing cold weather, when every year it used to get relatively calmer.
What is the reason that the peace process with Taliban does not get on track, and there are doubts and questions about it in every circle? The fact is that the Afghan government, itself, is not really sure how to deal with the situation. It lacks any comprehensive strategy in this regard, and keeps on calling Taliban for talks. Without having a comprehensive and practicable strategy, and thinking that there would be any headways in peace process with Taliban is a fool’s errand. The unpreparedness of the government under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani has further emboldened Taliban. Therefore, they have started believing that they can have a lion’s share in any sort of deal that may be reached with them.
As far as, war is concerned, Taliban seem to be gaining grounds. Currently, Afghan government has control of only 55 percent of all the districts of the country, which is slightly more than the half. On the other hand, they can also threaten the districts that are under the control of the government whenever they want, which they have proved recently. Even, the incidents in capital Kabul show that they can launch lethal attacks in almost all parts of the country whenever they want. Taliban, and even their enemies, have now started believing that they are not losing the war in Afghanistan, and that can be very dangerous for the prospects of peace.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Saturday, Nov 17, that the Taliban “are not losing” in Afghanistan, and much more needs to be done to bring peace to the war-torn country. During a discussion at a security forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he commented, “They are not losing right now, I think that is fair to say… We used the term stalemate a year ago and, relatively speaking, it has not changed much.” However, he also gave the indication that Taliban also believe that they cannot win the war through violence alone and they have to come to negotiation table. Therefore, he said in his statement, “Without going into detail here, we do believe the Taliban know that at some point they do have to reconcile… The key to success is to combine all that pressure to incentivize the Taliban.” Nevertheless, the opportunity to pressurize Taliban seems to be getting out of the hands of Afghan government.
Taliban seem to have realized this as well; therefore, they have always emphasized to have direct talks with the United States. Different rounds of talks between the Taliban and US representatives in Qatar point at the idea that US also seems to have realized the need to have direct negotiation with Taliban.  An Associated Press report highlighted on Sunday, Nov 18, that high-ranking members of the Taliban have held three days of talks in Qatar with the US peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad. The report said that the former Taliban governor of Herat Province, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and former Taliban military chief, Mohammed Fazl, attended the talks with Khalilzad in Qatar where the Afghan militant group has a political office. Khairkhwa and Fazl were among five senior Taliban members released from the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. All five former Guantanamo Bay detainees are now based in Qatar and are thought to have enough influence with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan to broker a peace deal.
Zalmay Khalilzad seems to have quickened the process as US appears to be pushing for some sort of agreement with Taliban before the presidential elections in Afghanistan next year. Recently, he also met with Ashraf Ghani, probably with the message that he will be involved in the process later; however, it is not sure whether Taliban are ready to have talks with Afghan government representatives directly. Taliban consider Afghan government as a puppet government and have always emphasized that they either talk directly with US or talk with Afghan government representatives after the ‘foreign forces’ leave Afghanistan.
Though currently there seems to be an urgency in reaching to a peace deal, the method to approach the process seems to have lost its shape. Urgency alone will not solve the issue; there has to be a comprehensive strategy to approach the matter. Identifying the conditions of the peace process, involving all the national stakeholder and regional countries, and above all defining the future shape of the political and constitutional setup in the country are pivotal before jumping around the negotiation table; otherwise, the dreams of peace in Afghanistan will only remain a dream.