Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, August 7th, 2020

Ifs and Buts in Resumption of Peace Talks

Afghan peace process has passed many ups and downs and had come close to a deal last month but called off by US President Donald Trump. A reported meeting between the Taliban delegation and US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad earlier this month have generated hopes of the resumption of peace talks.
Last week, at a rally in Minnesota, Trump indicated that he was ready to re-engage with the Taliban. “We’re pulling people out and we’re trying to make good deals and we’re going to bring our soldiers back home,” he said.
Meanwhile, Suhail Shaheen, spokesperson to the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in an exclusive interview to CNN-News18’s Zakka Jacob that there was no military solution and “peaceful solution” was the best option. Regarding the exclusion of the Kabul administration in the peace talks, he said after the peace deal was signed with the United States, “then we turn to the internal part of the Afghan issue and that is talking to all Afghan sides and this includes the Kabul administration – the current one – because we know they are also a party to the conflict”. He added that the Taliban were already in the negotiation with the US side. “We had about nine rounds of talks with the American negotiation team. We had completed discussing the peace agreement and it only has to be signed,” he said.
The Taliban also said earlier that no further changes were being made to the previous deal during the talks, and that the group stood ready to sign it.
To this end, both the Taliban and the US are willing to resume the talks. Washington will urge inclusion of the Afghan government in the talks and a reduction in violence. Nonetheless, there seems to be no indication of the Taliban changing their stance and they are likely to persist on signing the agreement drafted after holding nine rounds of talks with the US representatives in Doha. In short, there is no incentive for the Taliban to accept a ceasefire without a deal in place, which makes the resumption of the talks more difficult.
The presence of Khalilzad in Islamabad during the Taliban visit was no coincidence. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had assured US officials during his meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session that he would help the resumption of the Afghan peace process.
During Hamid Karzai administration, the US and Afghan governments believed that the key to unlocking the door to peace was held by Pakistan. Generals Kayani and Pasha were at the center of the US and NATO attention. Kayani took three white papers to Washington; one in 2009, the second in July 2010 and the third in October 2010. In Washington, they came to be known as ‘Kayani 1.0’, ‘Kayani2.0’ and Kayani 3.0’.
However, Pakistan’s reception given to the Taliban delegation raised many eyebrows in Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani administration showed a strong reaction to the Taliban visit to Islamabad urging that peace talks should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. Afghan officials believe that negotiations without the Kabul administration are unlikely to bring in sustainable peace.
A major objection to the US-Taliban draft deal was that there was no assurance from the Taliban to adhere to a permanent ceasefire. Then there was also no firm commitment from the Taliban to open direct talks with the Afghan government. So any resumption of peace talks is predicted on the Taliban’s softening position on those two issues.
Laurel Miller, who was the acting special representative for Afghanistan from 2013 to 2017, said in a recent interview to the National Public Radio, “The US is going to have to find a way to demonstrate, both to the parties in Afghanistan but also to the important countries in the region, that it’s still serious about negotiating and that it’s not simply fickle.”
The talks should be inclusive, and both the Afghan government and regional stakeholders have to be included in them. It is self-explanatory that Islamabad exercises influence over the Taliban leadership, many of whose members have their families living in Pakistan. Thus, Islamabad should exhort the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and talk to Kabul.
Meanwhile, the Kabul administration should form a national consensus to negotiate with the Taliban. Continuation of mistrust between the Afghan government and political leaders will deal a strong blow to the peace process.