Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, October 29th, 2020

Taliban Eying Concessions Through Delaying Peace Talks

There seems to be still ifs and buts within the Taliban leadership to start direct talks with the Afghan government, which agreed to the US-Taliban peace agreement signed in Qatar despite being sidelined from the negotiating table. The Taliban’s ambivalence regarding direct talks indicates a disagreement between their leadership and military commanders.
The Taliban’s backers and pawnbrokers are also likely to advise their leadership to postpone their talks with the Afghan government so as to gain further concessions. The Taliban’s tantalizing approach is based on both their consultations with their supporters and disagreement between their political leadership and rank and file.
Despite the arrangement of peace talks between the Taliban group and the Afghan government in the Qatari capital of Doha, the group still continues its escalated violence against the Afghan soldiers and civilians. In other words, the group has shown no indication of declaring ceasefire or reducing violence contrary to the constant demands of Afghan state and nation. The consultative assembly held in Kabul earlier this month approved the release of the Taliban’s hardcore fighters on conditions that the Taliban declare an immediate ceasefire and reduce violence. But the Taliban have never listened to the voice of Afghan people or their representatives.
It is believed that if the United States did not marginalize its international allies, NATO states, and the Afghan government from the peace talks held in Qatar, the peace process would not be as complicated as that of now. Whenever the Afghan government decides to move forward, further complication and challenges unfold since the Taliban are not pressured by the international community or Afghanistan’s international allies.
On the other hand, the Trump administration focuses on hasty withdrawal to brag about it in his campaign for presidential elections as he called himself “problem solver” in his 2017 speech laying out his military plans for Afghanistan. With this in mind, the Taliban leadership is seeking to waste the time and prolong the process to gain further concessions through acts of violence and terror. However, it is believed that if the US withdraws its soldiers despite Afghanistan’s fragile security condition, Trump may be a winner neither in the fight on terror nor in the upcoming elections. In short, a hasty troop pullout will be counterproductive since it is likely to generate further instability.
If the Taliban group is seeking peace, it has to remove the barriers, similar to that of the Afghan government, and show goodwill through reducing violence and declaring ceasefire. But the Taliban do not have full control over their fighters as the three-day ceasefire declared on Eid few weeks back was reportedly violated by their rank and file. Therefore, the Taliban fear that their lack of control over their military generals will be revealed further if they declare ceasefire, which will be violated again. It indicates that the Taliban are unable to assure peace and stability in Afghanistan. What if peace remains elusive after the Afghan government and the Taliban sign a peace deal? Is there a second strategy?
It is self-explanatory that delaying peace talks and intensifying attacks will simply increase the number of casualties, mainly those of civilians, and fill the public with unmitigated hatred towards the Taliban rather than benefiting any parties. Moreover, it will push the peace process to stalemate. The Taliban have constantly sought to create barriers before the talks and also showed a lukewarm response to peace through releasing a statement saying that they will not recognize the President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani administration as a government. If the Taliban continue their intensified attacks and harsh rhetoric, the peace process will be challenged and finally reach a stalemate.
The US has to put pressure on the Taliban to honor their deal with it and sit across from the Afghan negotiating team. Meanwhile, the US should also pressure the Taliban’s supporters to use their leverage in brokering the intra-Afghan dialogue and stop playing a destructive role.
Regional and global stakeholders have to engage actively and constructively in the peace process and pressure the Taliban to hold talks with the Afghan government without further delay.
Meanwhile, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has to point out the real challenges, facts, and barriers to peace process instead of simply talking optimistically without considering the problems. That is, Khalilzad should stop misleading the media and feeding false information to the public and some officials. So far, he should have changed the peace negotiations into political and academic discourse so that all aspects and challenges of the peace process were pointed out and solutions offered. The complication of peace process, the Taliban’s intensified attacks, and delay from their side should open Khalilzad’s eyes to the facts.