Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, April 3rd, 2020

The Rocky Resumption of Peace Talks

With the involvement of the US and Taliban representatives in negotiations, which have not borne a desired result so far, peace talks appear to be a rocky road as Washington paused the resurrected talks with the Taliban in Doha over the attack on Bagram airbase. The Taliban outfit continues its indiscriminate attacks and refuses to hold direct talks with the Afghan government.
The pause represents the latest interruption in the US-Taliban negotiations. The talks had resumed last Saturday after remaining suspended for almost three months.
In the talks, the Taliban said that it would announce a ceasefire with US forces in Afghanistan if they halt all military operations against it. “We would continue our operations against the Afghan government even if we announced a ceasefire for the US,” a Taliban commander is cited as saying. However, Washington is unlikely to stop its military action unless the two sides reach a peace agreement as US and NATO officials have reiterated their support to Afghan forces.
The Taliban interlocutors put emphasis on the ceasefire for a couple of reasons: one, to create a favorable environment for a peace deal; and two, to assess if Taliban leaders or those holding talks indeed exercise authority over their foot soldiers.
Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani made three suggestions in his statements in the eight ministerial conference of the “Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process” in Turkey which included: Building regional and international consensus, reaching an agreement on a coordinated process of regional and international support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, and designing and implementing a strong series of dialogues between the Afghan government and people and the regional and international community with the Taliban.
The sense in Islamabad is that there is a possibility of a framework agreement between the US and the Taliban, but the talks had been paused again. The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad was visiting Islamabad a day after the pause, where Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi hoped that the pause in talks between the two sides would end soon and progress towards a political settlement could be resumed. He also reiterated Pakistan’s support to Afghan peace process.
However, diplomatic ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been halted once again. In mid-October, Afghanistan closed its consulate in Peshawar over the removal of the Afghan flag from a market in the city, during a Pakistani police raid. Pakistani district administration evicted 180 Afghan shopkeepers from the market and removed the Afghan flag. The Afghan Embassy maintains that Afghanistan owns that area legally. And the next day, Afghan Ambassador Atif Mashal went to Peshawar and hoisted the flag.
It is believed that the trust deficit between Kabul and Islamabad still persists and Pakistani’s statements in support of peace process carry little significance for Afghans unless Pakistan proves its sincerity through taking more practical step in this regard.
But the fact is that Pakistan still exercises leverage on the Taliban leadership and is able to push the peace process to fruition. If Pakistan really plays a more active and constructive role for the fruition of the talks and puts pressure on the Taliban to negotiate with the Kabul administration, the perspective of Afghan people will be changed towards Pakistan. Meanwhile, the diplomatic ties between the two countries will be cemented. In short, Pakistan is a heavyweight regional stakeholders in Afghan peace talks, but it is viewed with a doubt if she puts her weight behind the dialogue.
The pause in the US-Taliban talks indicates that the Taliban’s intensified attacks will put the talks at stake. If the Taliban leadership is seeking a political settlement through dialogue, it has to reduce violence, mainly against civilians. The Taliban should note that peace talks are highly vulnerable and the negotiating sides should show flexibility. If attacks and conflict continue unabated despite the ongoing dialogue, it is unlikely to generate peace.
Some believe that there is a gap between the Taliban political leadership and military commanders. For instance, the political group negotiate with the US representatives, whereas its military commanders and fighters intensify their attacks to derail the talks. If the Taliban political office exercises authority on its military commanders, both have to pursue the same path.
The fact is that if the Taliban group seeks to play a foul game at the table, talks will be derailed and the Taliban will regret missing the opportunity. In such a sensitive time, reduction of violence is a dire need.
Both the Taliban and its US interlocutors have to put all their energy on reaching an agreement to put an end to the 18-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. If talks reach a stalemate, the horrible consequences of the conflict will be unavoidable.