Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, September 28th, 2020

Talks or Political Game?

Amidst the heated discussions about start of the intra-Afghan dialogue, Afghan civilians sustain heavy casualties as a result of the escalated militancy. Despite being called to reduce violence and sit across from the Afghan government, the Taliban continue their insurgency. The Taliban’s political chief Mullah Baradar warned that if Washington did not withdraw the American troops within the timeline agreed to, the Taliban “would make the necessary decisions”.
The Baradar’s latest statement indicates that the peace process, mainly the US-Taliban agreement, is fragile. The Taliban still purportedly maintain their ties with al-Qaeda and continue their fight against the Afghan government, but persists the US to fulfill its commitments.
Civilian casualties are highly concerning. Peace process is likely to be harmed as a result of the Taliban’s escalated insurgency. NATO and Afghan officials have called on the Taliban to cease violence and enter talks with the Afghan government. But so far the Taliban have turned a deaf ear to the calls for reduction in violence as well as ceasefire.
Many believe that marginalization of the Ghani administration and US-Taliban backdoor deal has been a blunder made by US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Peace is unlikely to be imposed from outside but have to be discussed between Afghan leaders, political pundits, tribal elders, and civil society on the one side and the Taliban on the other side. But the US-Taliban deal simply gave legitimacy to the Taliban, who have refused to reduce violence.
The Taliban are not in a position to send warning to the United States and have to honor their agreement. It is also believed that the agreement, signed in Doha between the two sides, carries increasing significance for the Taliban, who declare themselves the winner as a result of the deal.
Meanwhile, regional stakeholders are not playing their role actively and put no pressure on the Taliban to honor their deal or reduce violence. Some regional states are believed to support the Taliban, which will be the main reason behind the Taliban’s confidence to send a warning signal to Washington to withdraw its troops. But some Central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan which hosted the Tashkent Conference, have played active and constructive role in the Afghan peace process. The Afghan government appreciates their role and realize their good intention. Meanwhile, the government urges all regional stakeholders to put their weight behind the peace process with good intention since continuation of violence is in the interest of no group or state.
Khalilzad has started a trip recently as he visited Norway to form regional and global consensus. However, it seems that the impact of his trip is always short-lived. Regional and global actors have to take more practical action and Khalilzad needs to urge them to pressure the Taliban leadership to fulfill its commitment through discontinuing their ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist affiliates, reduce violence and enter talks with the Ghani administration.
It is self-explanatory that violence, instead of leading to peace and stability, will trigger the public hatred against the Taliban, harm peace process, and undo the US-Taliban deal. With this in mind, the Taliban leadership should call on their rank and file to stop violence, mainly against civilians.
Sustaining heavy casualties, the people of Afghanistan have also urged the Taliban to stop violence and hold negotiations with the government. Reports say that the Taliban are responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties either directly or facilitating other terrorist affiliates to target civilians. Although the US has carried out the first phase of its commitment through evacuating five military bases in Afghanistan and reducing its troops, the Taliban fighters are relentless in continuing their indiscriminate attacks.
Perhaps, the Taliban’s close backers have recommended the group to intensify their attacks against the Ghani administration to gain concessions at the negotiating table. But the escalated violence and hit-and-run policy will be counterproductive.
Khalilzad should urge regional actors, mainly Pakistan, to engage more actively in the Afghan peace process and pressure the Taliban leadership to reduce violence and negotiate with the Ghani administration. Further postponement of intra-Afghan talks may lead the peace process to a deadlock. The role of regional heavyweight stakeholders such as Pakistan, Iran, and Russia in the peace process is highly significant and Khalilzad needs to persuade them to engage in the process constructively, especially if they fear the spillover.
The Taliban should end their dilemma, political game, and double dealing and sit around the negotiating table with the Afghan government with genuine intention.