Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, August 15th, 2020

Ifs and Buts of Peace Talks

Regional stakeholders and Afghanistan’s neighboring countries have engaged in peace process more seriously so as to break the stalemate of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Recently, Pakistan hosted a meeting, in which a number of Afghan political figures, including the leader of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar participated. Hekmatyar is cited as saying, “Pakistan is a very important country and Islamabad could play a key role in bringing peace in Afghanistan and now they are doing it.”
The relations between Kabul and Islamabad is beginning to thaw as Imran Khan administration has vowed to support the peace process.
Moreover, reports say that a Taliban delegation had visited Beijing to hold talks with Chinese officials as part of peace process ahead of the seventh round of talks with the US in Qatar.
The seventh round of talks, slated for June 29, will carry great significance as regional states have stepped up their struggles for the peace process urging the Taliban to hold direct talks with the Afghan government.
The Taliban still deems the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as a progress in peace process. “A timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces is the key to progress in the talks,” said a former Taliban member Mawlawi Qalamuddin. “Talks with the Afghan government will begin and other issues will be solved if there is an agreement on this.”
With the support of regional stakeholders in intra-Afghan dialogue and Afghanistan’s military pressure on the Taliban, the Taliban leadership seems to have softened its tune towards the intra-Afghan talks. Perhaps, the release of the Taliban prisoners by Ashraf Ghani administration would have also put an impact on the process.
It is also believed that the Taliban have been pressured by the public since their leadership warned that it would target media staff if national media outlets did not stop their business advertisement against the Taliban.
It is self-explanatory that Afghans, who bore the brunt of casualties in terrorist attacks and suicide bombings, have been frustrated with the ongoing conflict. Besides killing a large number of civilians within the last 18 years of conflict, the Taliban have turned down the demand of Helmand Peace Marcher for stopping violence and negotiating with the government. They also refused the demand of people’s representatives in Loya Jirga, Grand Assembly, who urged the Taliban to declare truce.
The Afghan government has been calling on regional actors to engage constructively in the peace issue and nudge the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government. China is one of the countries, which has supported the “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned” peace process and played very positive role. Therefore, the Afghan government and Afghan ordinary people have very positive attitude towards China and welcome its role in this regard.
Hekmatyar’s statements regarding Pakistan’s role do not carry much weight and seem more complimentary since he has a strong tie with Pakistan and resided their before signing peace agreement with the Afghan government. So far, he has played no positive role in the peace talks. Worst of all, he has been a very controversial figure as he touched some sensitive issues in his speeches. Entering Kabul, after inking peace pact with the government, Hekmatyar called the Taliban “brother”, which angered the CEO Abdullah Abdullah. He also lambasted Ahmad Shah Masoud, known as national hero, who was killed by the Taliban. In his interview with a national media outlet, Hekmatyar once put the usage of some Persian terms under question claiming that the terms linked to Iran.
It should be noted that Pakistan is able to play an essential role in Afghanistan peace process. But there has been a trust deficit between Kabul and Islamabad. The two countries have to strengthen their ties and carry the issue of peace forward with mutual cooperation.
It is evident that it is hard for the US to carry the peace talks forward on its own. Hence, the US representatives have traveled across regional states for several times to ascertain their views and muster up their supports.
Reaching peace agreement with the Taliban is very significant before the upcoming presidential election, which will be held in September. That is, if the negotiating sides reach a peace agreement before election, Afghans will be able to flock to ballot boxes without concern about security issue. This will increase the public hope for democracy and election.
Regional supports will catalyze the peace process and pave the ground for reconciliation. Which countries will play more important role in this regard, it will be clear with the passage of time.