Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, January 22nd, 2021

Trust Deficit and Escalated Militancy Hamper Peace Process

The United Nations has delisted the Taliban’s leaders as terrorists – despite the Taliban’s announcement of spring offensive – due to the Washington’s request as the sixth round of talks between the US and Taliban representatives is going to be held in Qatar this month. With the escalated militancy, the upcoming talks are less likely to end the 17 years of conflict in Afghanistan and mapping out an all-agreed framework for peace and stability will be a long route.
On the other hand, as Kabul government is preparing to convene Consultative Loya Jirga on Peace, Afghan political leaders, including CEO Abdullah Abdullah, said they would not participate in the Jirga, which indicates a political friction between Ghani’s administration and political leaders. With this in mind, the Jirga which aims to bring about a national consensus will be proved futile.
Perhaps, former President Hamid Karzai could have persuaded Abdullah to send his delegation for intra-Afghan dialogue to Qatar, which is going to be held between Afghan political and Jihadi leaders led by Karzai and the Taliban’s leadership.
Ironically, the Taliban have called on people not to participate in the Consultative Loya Jirga although US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has urged Kabul government to form a national and inclusive team for negotiating with the Taliban – which is the Jirga’s main objective. 
“It is less likely that the insurgents agrees to a power sharing arrangement or inclusion in the elections if it is deeply immersed in radical ideology and perceives the stalemate in its favor. With less than five months left for the next round of presidential elections in Afghanistan, the government is also less likely to accept any settlement other than inclusion of insurgents in the elections,” said Omar Sadr in his research paper titled “Political Settlement of the Afghanistan Conflict”.
Amid peace talks, the tug-of-war continues between Kabul government and the Taliban as both sides announced spring attacks. Considering Taliban’s violence, Khalilzad tweeted that “the quickest way to prevent casualties is to agree to a ceasefire” adding that the Taliban should discuss ceasefire at the table and he would “press for the case”. It is still doubted if US negotiators could persuade the Taliban to declare ceasefire and include Afghan government in the talks.
It is aptly said that “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”. As Kabul government has been sidelined in the talks and has no role in the decision-making, it is vulnerable to the Taliban’s unmitigated violence. Thus, Washington should broker peace talks between the two sides in the upcoming negotiation and push the Taliban to declare truce.
I have constantly doubted the Taliban’s bona fide intention for peace since talks led to no palpable result in Afghanistan. The Taliban have intensified their attacks to bargain for higher price at the table with their US negotiators and Afghan Jihadi and political leaders.
After all, the gap between Afghan officials will deal a strong blow to the peace process. This gap has grown wider with the approach of presidential election as political leaders, including heads of National Unity Government, are running for office. Currently, President Ghani and CEO Abdullah have adopted two different approaches towards peace process. Strongly denying the establishment of interim government, Ghani urges the Taliban to participate in the presidential election. Nonetheless, Abdullah said earlier that he would agree with the idea of interim government if it led to peace and stability in Afghanistan. Abdullah also denied to put his weight behind Consultative Loya Jirga, which will be led by Muhammad Umer Daudzai, Ghani’s Special Envoy and CEO of the High Peace Council.
President Ghani’s political opponents believe that Ghani seeks to capitalize on Jirga as presidential campaign; whereas he signaled his intention for supporting peace process through forming a national and inclusive team. The Afghan government has been the main critic of the US-led backdoor peace talks, which led to a cold relation between Kabul and Washington, especially following the harsh remarks of Hamdullah Mohib against Khalilzad.
In spite of the fact that all three sides, Kabul, Washington, and the Taliban, believe in “military stalemate”, war continues unabated in Afghanistan. With the ongoing peace discourse, the Taliban rank-and-file sustain heavy casualties on day-to-day basis as the Taliban leadership announced its spring offensive.
The Taliban’s intensified attacks, their refusal to hold talks with the Kabul government, and the political friction between Afghan officials are great obstacles before negotiations. Regional and international stakeholders have to put much pressure on the Taliban to declare ceasefire and hold direct talks with Ghani’s administration.