Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, September 27th, 2020

Intra-Afghan Talks Will be Controversial and Time-Consuming

Outlining his strategy about Afghanistan and South Asia in 2017, US President Donald Trump pointed out three issues: seeking “an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”, “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda” and the security threats exist “in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense” as he said that 20 US-designated foreign terrorist organizations were active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But the US has been actively engaged in many complicated issues in the region, which outweighed the issue of Afghanistan. The Trump administration – as Trump did not deny the possibility of “political settlement” with the Taliban – sought to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. With this in mind, Washington held negotiations in the Qatari capital of Doha for several rounds to apparently discuss peace and stability in Afghanistan but focused on troop pullout. The two sides signed an agreement earlier this year based on which the US troops will be reduced, but peace remained elusive in the country. In short, the US-Taliban agreement did not lead to peace but paved the ground for the intra-Afghan dialogue.
The Afghan peace delegation and the Taliban sat around the negotiating table on Saturday in Qatar, where US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also traveled to attend the talks. Addressing the meeting, Abdullah Abdullah, head of High Council for National Reconciliation, reiterated respecting Afghan Constitution, freedom of speech, and women’s rights.
The start of face-to-face talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban group has been called “historic” and Afghans hoped that the Taliban may agree on declaration of ceasefire. Regional states including Norway, Germany, Spain, Finland, Japan, China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, and Turkey sent their representatives to Qatar to monitor the peace talks.
It is self-explanatory that the Afghan government, the Taliban, and the United States view the peace talks from different lenses. The Afghan government seeks to protect the decades of democratic achievements, constitutional principles, and women’s rights and freedoms, which are defined as a red-line by state and nation. Afghans are not going to backtrack after paying heavy sacrifices within the last two decades.
However, the Taliban focus on power-sharing and expects’ the lion’s share. The public demands are less likely to carry much weight for the Taliban as they turned a deaf ear to the voice of people. Taliban simply try to gain higher political positions within the government’s machinery – be it at the cost of people’s rights and freedoms. Meanwhile, fearing a widening gap between their political leadership and military commanders, the Taliban seek concessions for their fighters to convince them respect the agreement if signed between their leadership and the Afghan government.
The Trump administration is, however, in a hurry to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan so that he could gain credit in the upcoming presidential elections. Whether or not the intra-Afghan dialogue bears the desired result, Trump will withdraw the bulk of US soldiers from the country. In this case, the question arises that does he not think “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists”?
Many believe that if the negotiating sides sign a peace agreement under pressure, a sustainable peace will not emerge and there is a fear of civil unrest. Since the intra-Afghan dialogue is detailed and “contentious” – as many significant and controversial issues will be discussed – it will be time-consuming and signing an agreement before the US presidential election is unlikely.
On the other hand, if the intra-Afghan talks reach a deadlock, war and violence will be escalated and the struggles of the US administration will be in vain. Trump will lose in the election. To show himself a “problem solver” and fulfill his commitment to return the US troop home, Washington will put all his weight behind the ongoing talks in Qatar. The US will call on regional and global stakeholders to play constructive role in the Afghan peace process. However, the problem is that the content of the agreement will not be important to the White House. Washington may push for signing deal regardless of the contents of the agreement, which will trigger the concerns of the Afghan people.
It is the readers to judge how much the Trump administration has fulfilled its commitment to the people of Afghanistan as well as to the Americans. If sustainable peace emerge in Afghanistan and the two sides reach an agreement acceptable to Afghan people, it will be a great achievement for the Trump administration as well as the Afghan government or else the talks will not carry much significance.