After peace talks between the United States and Taliban were called off by the US President Donald Trump before Afghanistan’s presidential election, the Taliban delegation made trips to several countries, but the prospect of peace talks remained ambiguous.
Recently, Pakistan has hosted a Taliban delegation saying that it would support the resumption of peace talks. Meeting with the Taliban 12-member delegation, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad would continue to support all efforts to achieve sustainable peace in Afghanistan, which is essential for Pakistan’s own socio-economic development. He added that an inclusive peace and reconciliation process, involving all sections of the Afghan society, was the only practical way forward. Reduction of violence by all parties were reportedly emphasized in the meeting.
Appreciating Pakistan’s support for peace, the Taliban said both sides agreed on the need for a resumption of the peace process at the earliest opportunity.
However, Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said in a Twitter post that only Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace talks would lead to lasting and dignified peace in Afghanistan. He said, “No progress will be imminent if a peace process is not owned and led by the Afghan government.”
It is widely believed that sidelining the Afghan government in the peace talks was a mistake. If the Afghan government had be included in the talks, it would not be shut down. The result of the US-Taliban draft agreement was not acceptable to Kabul, which could have been one of the reasons behind the cancellation of the talks. If the Kabul administration refuses the result of the talks, an agreement between the Taliban and their non-Afghan interlocutors would carry no significance.
When the Taliban delegation had visited Pakistan, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had also a trip to Pakistan. Although there is no report about Khlilzad’s meeting with the Taliban delegation in Pakistan, he would have traveled during the delegation’s visit to meet with it. The three sides are likely to have agreed the resumption of peace talks perhaps with some conditions.
The Taliban must have learned that bargaining too hard and intensifying their attacks during the peace talks would be counterproductive.
Nonetheless, Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan National Security Adviser, said many hardline Taliban fighters would not join peace process. He claimed that the Taliban were ready integrating with al-Qaeda, and in the event of a peace deal some members of the Taliban might join the Islamic State group.
Mohib also said that the Taliban interpreted the peace deal, which appeared close on the horizon, as a victory. He insisted that the Afghan government had to be involved if the peace talks would work at all.
However, I believe that al-Qaeda has been undermined to a great extent and lost its funding resources. Hamza bin Laden’s death was also a strong blow to the group.
It is said that Russia plans to organize a meeting on the Afghan peace process this month, in which China, Pakistan, and the United States would participate.
Peace talks have to be revived and the process should be inclusive. The Taliban leadership has to accept sitting around the table with the Afghan government and reduce violence, especially against civilians. There should be a trilateral agreement acceptable to all three sides namely the Taliban, Washington, and Kabul so that it could put an end to the 18-year conflict.
In the meantime, regional states have to put pressure on the Taliban to stop violence and hold talks with bona fide intention. If the Taliban are sincere in the talks, they should stop targeting civilians and show flexibility. That is, they should not seek to impose only their own demands on their interlocutors. It would be more productive to push the Taliban for an agreement with the Afghan government rather than hosting their delegations after the talks cancellation.
If Russia is seeking to organize a meeting, it has to lead to a positive result. In other words, the meeting should not be organized only to add to the Taliban’s credit and their international recognition. Moscow has to use its leverage on the Taliban to push them for ending the conflict and reaching an agreement with their negotiators.
Including more regional powers will bear better result in the talks. Russia and Pakistan are likely to have great leverage on the Taliban. They should be included to use their leverage. Moreover, the two countries have promised much but acted little. They have to take more practical and sincere steps so that the Taliban and their interlocutors reach a reasonable agreement.