Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

Peace Talks Should be Give-and-Take Process

Afghan peace process has been highly controversial and unproductive. The first official talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government were held in July 2015, in Pakistan, in the presence of observers from the US and China but the second round was stalled following the confirmation of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death.
In the hope of resuming talks with the Taliban leadership, a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), comprises Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China, was formed, but the death of Omar’s successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour in the US drone attack in Baluchistan triggered mistrust between Washington and Islamabad leading to QCG’s disintegration.
Although the Taliban and the Afghan government held second round of talks in late October 2016, it was also proved abortive.
However, the Taliban offered peace talks with the United States after the election of Donald Trump as the president. Before US response, diplomats from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran and China attended a peace conference in Moscow to facilitate talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban. On 23 October 2017, the then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington was willing to negotiate with the Taliban. A meeting between a senior US state department official and the Taliban representatives was reported in July 2018, but it could not be confirmed.
On 12 October 2018, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad held talks with the Taliban representatives in Doha, which continued up to now as the sixth round of talks was held recently. But the Taliban still refuse to negotiate with the Afghan government.
The result of the latest round of backdoor talks in Qatar has not been leaked to the media, but, in the fifth round of talks, the Taliban and their US interlocutors agreed in principle on a frame for two crucial issues: the US troop pullout, and a commitment that Afghan soil would not again be used to launch terrorist attacks against the US and its allies.
One of the most prominent issues thwarting progress is said to be a disagreement over the ambiguous term of terrorism and terrorists since there is no universal definition. The Taliban agreed that they would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for international attacks, but urged their US interlocutors to define “terrorist” groups without ambiguity.
However, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo considers the Taliban themselves terrorists as he said, “I have team on the ground right now trying to negotiate with the Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan, trying to find a way to achieve an Afghanistan that’s not at war”.
In addition to those core parties to the conflict, for any deal to endure, other regional actors, especially Pakistan, need to agree, too. The US put pressure on Pakistan saying it was harboring terrorist groups, but Pakistani officials denied the claim. In early January, Pakistan’s Qureshi assured Mohammad Umer Daudzai, who had a trip to Pakistan, that Islamabad “would do all to help the people of Afghanistan see the earliest possible end to bloodshed and enter a new phase of peace and prosperity”.
To ally the public concern in Afghanistan, the US negotiators have to bargain for seven main points at the table: First, the Taliban have to agree on ceasefire and allow the US and the international community to monitor the process and have to hold direct talks with Afghan government.
Second, the Taliban rank-and-file have to be disarmed under the international observation and the Taliban must accept that military and police forces are the only institution to deal with arms and use force in the legal frame.
Third, resorting to violence should be accepted as crime. The Taliban should concede that it would be legally forbidden for any group to impose their mindset on others through resorting to violence and they should be able to continue their relations with foreign states only if they are legally allowed.
Fourth, the Taliban should re-open its political office in Afghanistan. Subsequently, the names of their leaders need to be removed from the blacklist.
Fifth, constitution amendment committee needs to be formed and chaired by Afghan government with the inclusion of the representatives of all parties, including the Taliban and civil society, and send the amended items of the constitution to Loya Jirga, grand assembly, for approval.
Sixth, the US troop withdrawal needs to occur gradually and be completed after conducting presidential election, in which the Taliban should also be entitled to participate with suffrage.
Seventh, a specific court should immediately deal with the cases of the Taliban’s prisoners, jailed in Afghanistan, and put them on fair and just trial.
So far, the Taliban have bargained for higher price and had been granted concessions without taking a single step towards peace or reconciliation. Worst of all, they have intensified their attacks against Kabul government, especially after declaring their spring offensives. If the Taliban push for imposing their peace package without accepting that of their interlocutors, reaching an agreement will not be possible. Finally, only an Afghan led and Afghan owned peace talks ensures a lasting and dignified peace in the country.