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

Afghans Concerned about Ambiguity of Talks

Afghans still fluctuate between fear and hope regarding the peace talks ongoing between the United States and Taliban in Qatar. But the ambiguity of the talks and the Taliban’s unclear strategy concern Afghan people.
The US representatives and Taliban have reached close to signing a deal after holding several rounds of negotiations in the Qatari capital of Doha. But Afghans are worried about the content and the future outcome of the deal.
Recently, both US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have made comments which are likely to have tempered expectations for an Afghan peace deal after weeks of unfulfilled rumors that a ceasefire was looming. This comes as reports show that violence is at a high in Afghanistan despite the US-Taliban talks.
Few days back, Khalilzad made a trip to Kabul after various meetings in Doha, Brussels, and Islamabad. Meeting separately with President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah, he cited no headway made in the peace talks. According to Ghani’s office, Khalilzad said, “We are waiting for a clear response from the Taliban about a ceasefire or a significant and lasting reduction in violence based on a practical mechanism which is acceptable to the people of Afghanistan and the US government.”
The readout also claimed that Khalilzad said there had been no significant progress in talks with the Taliban.
It should be noted that the outline of a peace deal with the main contours include a ceasefire, a withdrawal of US forces, the start of intra-Afghan dialogue, and a pledge by the Taliban to not allow Afghan soil be used to stage attacks against the United States. But the Taliban and their US interlocutors still haggle over the details at the table.
After peace agreement is signed between Washington and the Taliban, the intra-Afghan dialogue will be started. Afghans urge that the intra-Afghan talks should come from political level to national level that should include the voices of Afghan civil society, women, political leaders, tribal elders, and clerics. In other words, the premise of the intra-Afghan dialogue format is in itself good – all sectors of Afghan society, including a good proportion of women and minorities, are present to negotiate their future and protect their existing rights while compromising their shared territorial space in favor of an end to war. During the first round of the dialogue, hosted July last year by Qatar and organized by Germany, the parties were able to draw up a jointly presented statement of principles outlining their stances on the issues. While the Taliban dodged some major questions, the representatives of Afghanistan’s civil society showed unity on preserving the republican system and human rights.
Afghans should show that they are not passive peacebuilding recipients but peacebuilding actors. The structure of the dialogue will provide an optimal opportunity for Afghan society to set the agenda and work together to craft a peace that truly belongs to Afghanistan.
To this end, the government should engage Afghan representatives in the dialogue through forming an inclusive national negotiating team. If the government maintains the intra-Afghan dialogue at a political level rather than national level, the gap between state and nation is likely to be widened. Meanwhile, this issue will also remain a bone of contention between political parties and Afghan officials, who have to adopt common approach.
Overall, Afghans fear two issues: For the one, the US-Taliban talks were held behind closed doors and Afghans have no idea if the content of the deal will be approved by them. That is, they fear that since the US appears to seek a hasty withdrawal, they may sign a deal not approved by Afghans.
Second, the Taliban are unlikely to have outlined their post-peace strategy. Afghans fear the Taliban’s approach after signing a deal with the US side. It appears that the US have not discussed the Taliban’s strategy after reaching a peace accord. Afghans fear that the Taliban may seek to impose their Sharia-law on the people and would seek to establish Emirate system, which has no constitutional basis.
It is believed that the intra-Afghan dialogue, when started, will be very controversial since many details, including the Taliban’s post-peace strategy, will be discussed. Afghanistan’s negotiating team have to consider the red-line of Afghan people, protection of their rights and liberties without gender discrimination, and support of democratic principles as Afghans paid heavy sacrifices for gaining them. Meanwhile, peace deal should be guaranteed and the Taliban have to change their military assets to political ones.