Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, June 1st, 2020

The Contours of Peace Talks

There has been a rise and fall in the prospects of peace in Afghanistan with the ongoing negotiations between the US representatives and the Taliban in the Qatari capital of Doha. Except for his last briefing to Afghan officials, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad cited progress in the talks, which generated optimism for Afghans.
Khalilzad was upbeat till a few months ago about a final peace deal after his eight rounds of shuttle diplomacy. However, the US President Donald Trump called off the negotiations.
Initially, the Taliban believed that a unilateral peace accord would be reached with Washington without the announcement of a ceasefire and the engagement of the Kabul administration in the talks. But the United States pulled out of the process, and the intra-Afghan dialogue also took a backseat.
The ebb and flow of the US-Taliban talks continued as Khalilzad, in his recent meeting with the Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, said that there had been no significant progress in the talks. Khalilzad urged for a complete ceasefire and the inclusion of the Kabul government in the negotiations.
However, in a phone conversation with President Ghani, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited “progress” in the US-Taliban ongoing talks. Pompeo also informed CEO Abdullah Abdullah of the notable progress.
Trump has conditionally approved a peace deal with the Taliban leadership saying that the agreement will be signed if the Taliban prove their commitment to a durable reduction of violence over a test period of about seven days later this month. 
The events unfolding so far and the statements so far made suggest that all three sides to the conflict – the Taliban, the US, and Kabul – are in a state of confusion. For instance, the Taliban leadership is not cohesive. Many of the Taliban leaders, for fear of being targeted, are spread out and hiding across the border. Mullah Haibatullah is unlikely to have a hold over them. For fear of being located, the leadership has given autonomy to their cadres to take decisions on their own. On the other hand, there is a disagreement between Afghan officials and political parties over the formation of negotiating team for intra-Afghan dialogue. The US side urges the Taliban to accept their conditions.
The only possible way to peace is for the Taliban to announce a comprehensive ceasefire and agree to hold direct talks with the Afghan government. It is self-explanatory that marginalization of the Kabul administration through refusal to hold direct talks will lead the talks to deadlock. The Afghan government is one of the main elements of the talks. For instance, if the draft agreement is not approved by Ghani administration, talks are likely to be stalled again.
So far, many issues have stalled the peace process. Foremost, the Taliban have been adamant that the US gives a definite date of withdrawal from Afghanistan. No agreement has been reached on this as yet. Moreover, the intensification of the Taliban’s offensive also hampered the process. That is to say, despite the ongoing peace talks, violence continued unabated.
Afghans are concerned since the Taliban are averse to democracy and are determined to impose their version of theocratic dispensation. Afghans have their red-line, which includes protecting the rights and liberties of women, safeguarding democratic achievements, and supporting the current democratic constitution.
In the first phase, the Taliban have to agree to a power-sharing formula and integration into the political system. In the second phase, they should work to gain political power through the process of ballot.
Afghans have paid heavy sacrifices for achieving democratic gains and will continue their support to democracy at the cost of heavier sacrifices. With this in mind, the Taliban will not be able to sell their radical mindset.
Afghan people desperately deserve a negotiated peace after all those sacrifices. Regional and global actors have to put their weight behind the talks and broker intra-Afghan dialogue.
Afghan officials and heads of political parties have to form an inclusive negotiating team and reach a national consensus.